Location: HoH Headquarters Interior – Lost Haven
Time: Evening of Hound Attack
”So much for going it alone,”
Madalena begrudgingly mumbled as she and Charlie trailed sluggishly behind Lyger and Radiance. In the gap between their conversation about sneaking through the front door and actually doing it, the two heroes sauntered in, exchanging cautious glances at Hex and Alchemyst but never speaking a word.
Maddi held an arm in front of Charlie, halting her advance. The two watched Lyger and Radiance disappear down a long hallway. Madalena doubted she and Charlie would cause enough of a stir to draw the heroes’ attentions. Time passed, and as one pair moved ever onward, down into the depths of the Hound base, the other travelled a separate path, electing to go up, hoping to find some remnants of the Hound’s internal intelligence.
Much to their combined surprise and amusement, Lady Hex and Alchemyst found the base almost entirely silent. They could hear the wind thrashing against the walls, brought in by a storm off the coast, not one conjured by Madalena’s magic. It was an eerie silence. Maddi almost wished she could hear the idle chatter of Hounds going about their daily routines, keyboards clicking, monitors beeping, communicators buzzing, the dull hum of radio static filling the spaces between. But there was nothing, nothing to hear and even less to see. Furniture had been strewn about in a panic, electronics smashed, walls bare, floor coated in debris. There was truly nothing in sight, which didn’t bode well for Hex and Alchemyst’s mission. ”I don’t even know where to start with this.”
Madalena moaned with utter exasperation, upending loose rubble with her cane, not really expecting to find anything of use hiding underneath.
Charlie gave the departing backs of Lyger and Radiance a rather sarcastic salute, off doing what they probably wholly believed to be the right thing to do. Charlie’s own rebellious sparks faded. Shortly before the Hounds had arrived she shared Lyger and Radiance’s common motivation. Defend and stand for home. In that she found appreciation for those who not only wanted to, but could
She looked to Hex, they couldn’t fly to punch a helicopter out of the sky.
What they could accomplish was taking care of an invisible threat, one that is strong enough to survive the fallout of the day. The battle was being fought but the war carried on tomorrow.
In that Charlie found purpose for her rebellion against the metas, against the heroes.
They would all, the Hounds of Humanity included, live to fight another day.
“Evil lair or not, they still have to have an accounting department to sort their paperwork out. We just follow the finances.
” She tapped her staff against the bit of debris Hex lifted, cracking it in half. Beneath it Charlie pulled a piece of paper free, it was an old memo announcing someone’s birthday, mundane if they weren’t in a place so jarring. “No matter how fucked up they are they’re still people.
“We keep looking. In a mess this big we’re bound to find something valuable, even if it’s not exactly what we wanted.
” She said leading the way down another corridor. They walked past several offices, doors strewn open - Charlie clicked on her flashlight mounting it to her shoulder. The threads of cotton wrapping snuggly around it. Hex switched on hers.
“If I were evil accountants nickel and diming evil militant assholes where would I want to file my bullshit. . .
” She said half jokingly as she peeked her head into one of the doors, it creaked loudly in the relative quiet. Scanning for movement she cautiously entered. Filing cabinets, rows of desks sat looking freshly abandoned. Drawers were thrown open, computers smashed to the ground - alone that would have been a goldmine to a scavenger.
“I wonder if it would be worth it to pick the computers clean of their hard drives.
” She said, largely to herself gingerly lifting a desktop back onto the desk. To Lady Hex she said, “If you want to rifle through one of the cabinets see if they’re storing anything like invoices, addresses, employee profiles.
A thought struck her, “Fuck, if anyone was hired through a third party they wouldn’t keep their shit here. We have to check.
” She said digging into the tower’s guts and wires.”This is probably a longshot,”
Madalena unenthusiastically replied, taking the length of her cane in her right hand and tapping the hilt against the tops of each filing cabinet. One by one, the tall metal units began to rattle, some falling in on themselves, some sputtering out shelves and folders, and some seeming to crumble at Hex’s touch. Amidst the chaos, something stuck out, a fallen drawer with a single intact file at the bottom. Maddi rummaged through its contents, smiling as she found at least a hint of a clue.”I think I’ve got something,”
she proudly announced, speeding over to Charlie. ”It’s a requisition form and the accompanying purchase order. I can’t make sense of all the technical machinery mumbo-jumbo, but it’s addressed to the flower shop in Lost Haven where we met the General.’
Charlie stared at that little paper Hex held up, flashlight illuminating it. “That is. . .
In Charlie’s other hand she had grasped the hard-drive wrenching it free. “Fantastic! You - me. We have to go scavenging together one night, that right there, is very handy.
” She pointed enthusiastically with the harddrive, her brain caught up with her. “If that was something you’d want to do for fun because I’d get if it wasn’t a really fun idea-
A flash of light brightened the hallway catching Charlie’s eye and she sucked in some air. As handy and quick as Hex’s solution was - it was unfortunately loud. She whispered, “Get down, I got this.
Charlie stepped lightly o the wall, eyes on the doorway seeing the light get brighter as whoever behind it was cautiously making their way closer. Charlie drew a small circle for a hole, pressing an ear to hear the footsteps. There was a pair of them, she held up two fingers to signal Hex.
Gauging roughly how far away they were, she quickly drew a far larger circle in the wall, enough for a torso. Her finger drawing through the drywall like it was playdoh. Weakening the it to be about as thin as rice paper. “I call this trick the Kool-Aid Man.
” She whispered, grinning through the mask.
She waited watching the light and listening to the footsteps, the pair walked quietly approaching her spot on the wall. She knocked very quietly, getting their attention. Their footsteps came to a stop, one of them - a masculine voice asking a ‘Oh no, did you hear that?’
She knocked again, then took several steps away getting some room. Then she dashed putting her full weight into the wall, busting through quite easily and sending drywall outward into the pair of Hounds. They shrieked with surprise, Charlie grasped the first gun pointed at her turning the barrel of it to liquid. With her other hand she swung her staff for a direct hit against the other - thankfully without a helmet. Disorientated, she quickly took down both knocking them out cold.
Turning to back to the hole in the wall she said, “Oh yeah.
Madalena snickered, moving out of cover and looking the two unconscious Hounds over. The tables had truly turned. With their central base of operations out of commission, the remaining Hounds of Humanity would be scrambling to maintain their hold over the U.S., and even though The Winter Court wasn’t entirely constructed of Hounds, it relied heavily enough upon their support to take a decisive blow from the evening’s attack. They couldn’t rest yet, but Maddi felt a considerable weight lifted from her shoulders. ”Quick thinking,”
Maddi complemented Charlie, ”although your delivery could use some work.”
she joked, elbowing Charlie’s arm before returning to their search.
Charlie’s cheeks grew rosy, a quip suddenly lost.”Those two probably didn’t stick around to clean up the mess. I imagine whoever’s still inside is here to tamper with evidence and shred their records. We’d better get a move on.”
Hex’s reasoning was solid, and she certainly hoped there’d be no more interference, but knowing the Hounds, there was more trouble ahead. They’d need to find more than just a few purchase orders from the General while they still could. ”Wait!”
Madalena exclaimed, pulling a small journal from beneath her coat. This was her black book, a collection of minor charms, incantations, and conjurations she’d either found useful or of particular interest. A number of the book’s pages were loosely bound, some even folded and tucked in the spine to keep them in place. A few cords fell from between different sections, assumedly attached to talismans and other trinkets of general use. ”Here it is,”
Maddi announced, confirming the spell in question. She looked up at Charlie. ”This might sound weird, but is there anything in here you can turn into an arrow?”
“Sure, there’s always something to work with.
” She said, “Any preference on what it’s made of? I know material sometimes matter for spells.
” Charlie shuffled some paper out of her pocket, already scribbling some deconstruction formula. There was a garbage can knocked over and she grabbed a couple aluminum cans. She balanced both on her hand, accounting for the remanent sticky residue of soda. The cans melted into her hand, pooling like a puddle of water. She played with the shape a bit in her fingers stretching it out and forming the pointed arrowhead, the shaft and metal feathers. Not unlike something she’d make to sell at Croll Corner
. Solidifying it she passed over the completed arrow to Hex.
Madalena grinned, taking the arrow and setting down on the nearest uncluttered desk. ”Perfect!”
Maddi proclaimed, taking the form she’d found on the Witchfinder General and holding it a short distance above the arrow. The edge of the paper suddenly caught fire, smoldering the form down into ash that fell rather neatly on the arrowhead, blackening it. ”The arrow is part of a divination . . . well, I’m turning into one, anyway. The actual spell was either written by a Pennsylvania folk magician or a Romanian witch from the 15th century, their formula doesn’t really indicate national origin. It was originally a spell to help an arrow find its target, but I’m switching things up by giving a piece of the target I need it to find. Ash from a form is a pretty poor taglock, I’ll admit, but it’s something.”
Regardless of Maddi’s doubts, Charlie watched on with curiosity. While she never quite understood or could wrap her head around witchcraft, it followed its own internal logic and reasoning. She loved watching it happen, the process was endlessly fascinating.
With the form now completely burnt and the arrow thoroughly coated in ash, Madalena referred back to her book to find the correct word to incant over the arrow. It was written in a script she was somehow able to read, one of the lesser chthonic tongues to which Puck granted unlimited access. The pronunciation, however, was a different story.”Let’s hope this is right . . .”
Madalena mumbled before speaking the word aloud, one that, once given breath, sounded like electrical arcs or the burning of hot embers. The arrow trembled for a moment before settling back in its place.”Hmm, we don’t have a bow so maybe . . .”
Maddi lifted her hand, bidding the arrow to levitate. With a swift and decisive motion, she sent the arrow through the broken wall, watching in amazement as, instead of colliding with an adjacent wall, it quickly changed trajectory, following an almost invisible path. Once the arrow was out of view, Madalena waited until she heard a loud thunk several rooms over.”Guess it worked,”
she remarked, clasping her hands together in bewildered amusement.
Charlie heard it’s landing as well, trying to judge how far it went like a textbook math problem. “Let’s find out.
They quickly and as quietly as they could, followed the strange path the arrow took. It led them predictably to another office but inside there were another pair of Hounds, flashlights moving around, soft complaints of the shitty clean up job they got stuck with. Wondering out loud why the fuck there was suddenly an arrow in the middle of their work. They tried to remove it with little success. It was holding fast.
On either side of the doorframe the pair of magically gifted women were pressed up against the wall exchanging looks of thought. Trying to hatch some kind of plan or distraction.
They were there for only moments before the emergency lights and fire alarm lights lit up all down the hallway, blaring sirens loudly bringing a warning of an impending strike on the base - on Lost Haven. Warning all employees to evacuate, for the impending strike from the satellite. Charlie clamped her hands over her ears.
The hounds began to yell various forms of ‘What the fuck!
’ Panic gripping them, they threw the files they had in their hands to the ground. “One minute, twenty seconds.”
A countdown began, Charlie was bewildered - the warning came too late. The alarms and sirens were useless. What happened? Did Lyger and Radiance fail to stop the strike on this side of the fight or did they fail bring the satellite down from space? There wasn’t enough time!“One minute, five seconds.”
No! The metas had to have pulled through - they really had no choice but to succeed or see Lost Haven wiped out. Charlie’s thoughts kept circling back to how useless a warning system was for less than two minutes. Like a bad fire drill.
The Hounds took off at a run going straight for the door, Charlie stuck out her staff across the threshold meaning to trip them. Madalena, however, came to her side, pulling the staff back, allowing the Hounds to flee, heading down a separate corridor to the one they were currently facing. It wouldn’t have done them any good to be stuck in a fight with the timer going off, and neither of the Hounds seemed to keen for a fight either.”We’re not done, and I’m guessing neither are Lyger and Radiance.”
Madalena yelled, sprinting into the room to look through the cabinet her arrow had pierced. She shuffled through the cabinet frantically, fearful that the satellite would unleash its attack at any moment, but intrinsically knowing that Puck wouldn’t allow any harm to come to her, and she wouldn’t allow harm to come to Charlie. ”Fifty-five seconds,”
the countdown proceeded as Hex continued her search, finally landing on a folder that bore the Witchfinder’s likeness, a photo of the man in full dress and a strange symbol clipped to the inside.”Thirty seconds.”
Madalena lowered herself to the floor, the deafening alarm clouding her thoughts. It was hard to remain positive and on track with impending doom looming over one’s shoulder.”Ten”
the countdown was in its final stage. Maddi struggled to keep her composure, but she swore that she would never again allow the Hounds to get the better of her. Out of spite, she refused to break down. She returned to Charlie in the final seconds, the two sharing a brief look - Charlie’s hands shot out tugging Madalena into a hug. The Alchemyst squeezed her eyes shut holding tight. One final form of comfort before a large blast from deep within the building shook the walls, followed by the distant roar of thunder. The warning lights went off, leaving the two of them in darkness once more.
Charlie’s heart was hammering in her chest when she squinted up at the lights dying and the sound disappearing. Her ears were ringing. Her arms loosened and she looked around, wondering briefly if she were imagining the alarms in the first place.
Madalena supported herself with her cane, nearly falling during the explosion below. She let out a long, relieved sigh.”Cutting it a little close, don’t you think!”
she screamed down the hall, knowing that neither Lyger nor Radiance would likely hear protests.
Charlie’s relief bubbled out in a laugh at Hex. She held her chest then crouched down to the ground, laughing. “Fuck.
The giggles died into a deep sigh.
She looked up at Madalena again, wondering what she would have done without her being at her back tonight. No matter what happened Charlie was eternally grateful for her new witchy friend. ”Well that’s one problem taken care of,”
Maddi said as she offered a hand to help Charlie up. ”And here’s another.”
she brandished the file, opening it for the both of them to see.
Inside were the photos of the Witchfinder and a seal that assumedly belonged to The Winter Court. There were a list of contacts and associates known to frequent the General’s presence, as well as some brief notes on his work prior to involvement with the Hounds. None of it, as far as Madalena could tell, was explicit enough for them to act on immediately, but it was enough information to get them started. ”In light of the base almost evaporating, and given that the Hounds were gonna torch it anyway, I think we’re fine just taking the file as is, agreed?”
Charlie thought about that and said, “Yeah, there’d be no way to know for sure if the file was simply destroyed or stolen. It works in our favour, for once. The odds have been stacked against us.
” She shrugged, reasonably the chaos here today would cover their tracks. Maybe not from the authorities but from the the General.”Oh, speaking of scavenger hunts,”
Madalena pulled the small leather journal from her coat. ”I didn’t exactly show up in Sherman Square to be a good samaritan, although I’m glad I came when I did. Puck gave me this right before I came. He told me not to open it until after I was needed. My guess, he wanted me to help you so that you’d be free to help me, although nothing’s ever really that simple with him.”
Madalena flipped through the journal, a puzzled look crossing her face.
The more Charlie heard about Puck, the more questions it inevitably raised. She wondered if she should be worried about factoring into anything an entity like him would be planning. Her eyes shifted from the files and to looking over Hex’s shoulder down at the journal. She squinted.”Hmm . . . Now I get why I needed your help. There are instructions in the back of the journal. It’s a recipe of some kind, or a ritual, an invocation I think. But at the front there’s all this . . . well, I don’t actually know what it is. Some kind of alchemic formula I guess, but it doesn’t look like any I’ve ever seen before, not that I’ve seen too many, although in a lot of old grimoires you run into the magician or witch getting into their experimental phase . . . sorry, rambling. Maybe it’ll make sense to you?”
Madalena hopefully handed Charlie the journal, curious as to what she might find.
“Alchemists know all about experimentation.
” Charlie joked, trading off the files. Reading the formulas. “This feels familiar. There’s a bit about plant matter, the break down of the cellular walls… attempting to strengthen them?
” She asked, intently rereading it, thinking out loud. It wasn’t a formula she had seen before but the handwriting and its focus on plant matter rang a bell. It was written entirely free of chemical symbols - all of it was written in traditional alchemy. Messily scribbled symbols of fire and sulfur, interestingly a uniquely written symbol for tin... No it was zinc. She blinked quietly recognizing it. “This wasn’t just any alchemist, this was written by gramps! My gramps is the only one I know to write zinc in the most annoying way possible. We always mix up his tin and zinc! He specializes in botanical alchemy, plant life and I’ve never seen this formula before.
” She said excitedly, “I never expected to see everything he’s worked on, we all keep certain techniques to ourselves but I’m sure if I talk to him we can figure it out.
She thought, remembering now her family might be freaking out after seeing the news. Charlie groaned. Once again being left without knowing if she was alive. Tonight was different, she wasn’t sure what to expect from their reaction, she had a choice this time.
“My family is going to be pissed.