Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Aerial Inferno (Part 2)

At the last possible moment, they leapt into the side passageway, slamming hard against the deck, as the gorilla chieftain opened fire with the M-80 machine gun clutched expertly in his massive, calloused paws. A cloud of firefly sparks erupted in the corridor where Nora and Sully had once stood, high-caliber bullets spitting and chewing and denting the walls and floor.

“Please tell me your grandmother said something about this!” Sully demanded, as she and Nora huddled against the deck. A dogfight’s worth of ricochets spanged and pinged above them.

“She said something about gorillas as pilots,” Nora shouted back, “but I sure as hell didn’t hear anything about them knowin’ how to shoot!”

The gunfire died away, replaced by the scramble of triumphant, predatory hands and feet against the metal of the corridor. The apes were coming. Sully and Nora rose and ran, ducking trembling pipes hissing treacherous needles of steam from every joint.

The lead ape, his back a broad stripe of silver, had by far the largest weapon — some things, evolution just sorts out for itself — but not the only one. And as the mass of apes lumbered into the corridor in hot pursuit of Nora and Sully, the jostling rear echelon of females and young males pointed submachine guns and pistols from thick, hairy paws, and pulled a multitude of triggers.

Sparks and steam exploded behind the women, bullets rupturing pipes and sizzling wildly into the walls and floors. The thick, white, searing cloud held the apes back for a moment, and Sully slid into cover behind a thick bulkhead, Nora doing likewise opposite her, and drew a bead on the roaring, hairy shapes flailing about in the steam.

Her hand shook. She could see the apes right there, teeth bared, waving their instruments of death…

“God damn it!” Sully roared, furious with herself, and yanked her trembling hand away.

“What?” Nora asked her, baffled.

“I watch a lot of nature specials, OK?” Sully spat. “And… and those World Wildlife Fund mailers! I can’t do it!”

“Hate to break it to you,” Nora replied darkly, as the first of the apes stumbled blindly out of the steam, pawing at its eyes. “But up here? I’m pretty sure we’re the endangered species.”

She took careful aim, and the revolver barked in her hands; blood flew out the back of the ape’s meaty shoulder, and it spun around shrieking and fell back to the deck.

Hoots of rage reverberated in the narrow passageway. Nora shrank back in terror as the apes’ guns responded, spattering the bulkhead that sheltered her with a punishing barrage of hot lead.

“Them or us, Sully!” she shouted, desperate, as Sully willed her shaking hands to still themselves. “And I really, really want it to be them!”

Sully did not so much hear her great-grandfather’s voice in that instant as feel it — the merciless scrape of it, passing through her bones, stiffening her spine. She thought of those two empty shoes, and the pair of earrings, and the open window. And how no one, whatever their past deeds, deserved so lonely and desolate a fate.

Her eyes narrowed. Sully Wells stepped full into the corridor with both guns raised, her midnight garments billowing in the steam like some terrible banner, and spat fire from each fist.

The apes fell back anew as Sully’s rounds cut into them, heavy primate bodies falling lifeless to the deck. Sully stood there fearless, exposed, aiming and firing and aiming and firing until her pistols clicked empty.

“Easy, easy!” Nora shouted, wrestling Sully back into cover. “I didn’t say forget about the nature specials altogether!”

“What?” Sully asked at last, shaking her head. “I didn’t — I’m sorry…”

“Are you kidding?” Nora asked, suddenly a little afraid of the strange, confused look in Sully’s eyes. As if she’d just awakened from some glorious, terrible dream. “You kicked their hairy asses! But they’re gonna be back, and I really don’t want to wait.”

Reloading on the run, they emerged from the access passage to the port-side main corridor. Behind them, Nora could already hear grunting and scrabbling as the pursuing gorilla forces regrouped.

“Which way?” Sully asked, jamming home a fresh magazine in one of her pistols.

“Just ahead!” Nora said, heading off to her right. “Can’t be too much—”

A thousand screeching, scraping tongues of metal sang, discordant. The gondola shuddered in its steel skin, as the corridor ahead tore itself open in a storm of metal and noise. Bright and fearsome, the sky came spilling in.

In happier, bloodier days, Wicked West still had a crew to amuse, and doomed male prisoners with which to amuse them. Those relatively fortunate souls not allotted to sharpen the skills of the elite Five Knives Brigade of Truth Extraction, or dragged screaming away to Rena Grimm’s lab as raw materials, would be marched at gunpoint into the engine room, to the cheers of the crew.

The Faithless drew propulsion from two vast turbines in the aft engine room, their diameters easily measured in elephants. The prisoners — grizzled cargo haulers, unwary fighter or bomber pilots, the occasional deluded explorer —
were stationed at a yellow line specially painted on the engine room floor, pointed toward the turbines’ intake valves, and made to walk forward.

Bets regularly arose over how far any given captive would travel under his own power, before the turbines’ ravenous suction did its terrible work. However far they got, the ultimate result never changed: long, ominious tracks of fine reddish mist, trailing in the Faithless’s wake.

When the initial dynamite bombs rocked the engine room, Turbine Two had been impaled by a flying pylon, consuming itself in fire. Turbine One had soldiered on bravely among the escalating flames and catastrophe until, at last, the inferno melted through the reinforced deck plates and found the fuel tanks beneath.

The blast lifted the entire turbine into the air with incredible force, the casing around its spinning, eleven-foot titanium blades shearing off like dried newspaper. The blades bored upward through the steel skin of the craft, shredded one of the remaining aft compartments of the Zeppelin’s immense balloon in a rush of escaping helium, and for a single, graceful microsecond, hung at the apex of their parabola directly above the dark expanse of the Faithless’s gasbag.

Then, succumbing to gravity, they fell. Before tumbling headlong into the lake far below, the smoking cluster of still-whirling blades plunged through a forward section of the balloon, shredded a gash through three decks and one wall of the gondola, and nearly tumbled Nora and Sully out to their deaths.

When her mind cleared, Sully found herself clinging to a ladder protruding from the craft’s inner wall with one hand, and clutching the wrist of Nora, precariously balanced at the jagged edge where deck gave way to empty air, with the other. The clouds outside had burned away in the late morning sun, and after growing accustomed to the dim reddish glow of the Faithless, the light seemed cruel and blinding.

Nora was a hazy shape against that light, and between the sudden blast of wind and the ringing only just subsiding in her ears, it took Sully precious, long seconds to realize that her companion was shouting something at her. A warning.

Down the corridor behind them, at the intersection from which they’d emerged, the gorilla gang had materialized, hooting and shrieking, brandishing their guns. They, too, seemed blinded by the sudden light — but recovering quickly.

Nora couldn’t even hear her own words as she shouted to Sully, stumbling forward to regain her balance against the howl of rushing air at her back. She raised her own pistol and fired into the mass of apes, but the shot went wild, over their heads. And it made the gorillas only angrier.

“What do we do?” Sully shouted, audible at last to Nora’s recovering ears. Nora glanced at the apes, then up the ladder to which Sully clung — to the portal in the ceiling through which it passed. She remembered the blueprints she’d glimpsed.

“We climb!” she hollered back.

Up the ladder they raced, hot lead spitting into the walls and rungs just beneath them. The fissure torn by the errant turbine greeted them again on the level above, and once more on the third tier; and all around them, on every level, the air rang with the panicked hoots of terrified, furious apes.

At the top of the ladder, Sully found a hatch, sealed tight by a rusted metal wheel. To one side, the gap torn in the Faithless’s side yawned, too far to jump; on the other, far down the corridor but steadily approaching, a wall of flames surged and boiled like a thing alive.

“I can’t — dammit —” Sully hissed, guns tucked in her sash, straining to turn the wheel and open the hatch above.

“Here, switch!” Nora called from just below her. “Just keep those apes off our asses!” She looked back, vertiginously, down the ladder, where heavy simian forms clambered in swift, syncopated pursuit.

Sully hopped sideways off the ladder, landing in a crouch on the deck, as Nora ascended. Peering down through the hole in the floor to the level below, Sully drew one pistol, all thoughts of endangered species and maudlin appeals banished. She could make out the face of the first ape up the ladder, pocked with tooth marks from long-ago fights; it bared its teeth at her.

“Hello,” Sully said quietly, and put a bullet between its eyes. It tumbled back down the ladder, taking a second ape with it. But more followed, and more still behind them…

At the top of the ladder, Nora clung to the rungs and stared up at the wheel, thinking hard. She flipped her pistol in her hand, grasping it by the barrel, and dug the butt into one of the four wedge-shaped opening in the wheel.

“Give me a place to stand,” Nora murmured, distantly recalling high school physics. She tugged against the barrel, using it like a wrench. And with a powdery shower of rust and a protesting groan, the wheel began to turn.

“I got it!” Nora whooped, to more gunfire just below her.

“Well, get it a little faster!” Sully shouted back, firing down the hole with one pistol while thumbing bullets into the a clip for the other. “I’m not sure I’ve got as many rounds as these shaggy bastards have reinforcements!”

Straining against years of neglect, Nora turned the wheel. The butt of the pistol scraped against the flaking paint of the valve; she spat and blinked as rust danced down into her eyes and mouth. Then the valve clicked, the lock unsealed, and with a determined shove from Nora, the hatch flopped open into clear air above.

“Come on!” Nora shouted. Below, Sully slammed a boot into the looming face of one last gorilla, leapt upward, and scrambled up the ladder behind her.

They emerged to the whistling wind, a black sky of reinforced tarp stretching away above their heads, and the smell of smoke and flame. A crisscrossing forest of thick, twining steel anchor cables sprouted at angles from fat rings sunken into the top of the armored main gondola, connecting it to the primary gasbag that held the Faithless aloft.

Nora slammed the hatch shut, and looked for some way to seal it from without; but it vanished into the hull nearly without a seam. The apes would follow, and there was no way to stop them.

“The other balloons,” Sully asked, scanning her eyes from side to side. The hull of the ship yawned wide on either side of them, and in the low, close shadow of the balloon above, their view of anything beyond was limited to washed-out white slices of sky. Far at the aft of the gondola, wild sheets of yellow-orange flame roiled away from the shattered remains of the engine room, lapping at what portions of the balloon hadn’t already succumbed to flying shrapnel. “If we can get to those catwalks…”

“Catwalk,” Nora said, feeling her heart deflate and collapse upon itself as she said it. “Singular.” She pointed to the port side of the gondola. Through the narrow gap between balloon and hull, they could see one of the two auxilliary pods once connected to the Faithless receding into a speck against the sky, light glinting off the ragged, shattered catwalk that dragged like a broken arm from its side.

“Must’ve been severed when the hull tore open,” Nora spat, strangely furious. “Dammit! How do we get off this nightmare?”

“One down, one to go, right?” Sully offered, hastily reloading her pistols. “Let’s check starboard.”

“And if that’s not an option?” Nora asked.

“This thing’s coming down one way or another,” Sully shrugged. “How well can you swim?”

“Let’s not find out,” Nora muttered, and swung herself under a anchor cable, headed starboard.

They picked their way through the maze of arm-thick steel cords, Sully’s cloak fluttering like a living thing in the ceaseless wind. Nora kept a keen eye back on the hatch they’d arrived from, expecting primate pursuers at any moment.

“Oh, thank you, good luck,” Sully breathed, then grabbed Nora’s arm and pointed. There, over the rise of the far side of the gondola, they could see the swelling top of a smaller black balloon — the starboard pod, still attached.

“Now we just have to figure out how to get down,” Nora sighed.

“I’m sure we’ll think of—” Sully began, but the jagged clang of an opening hatch swallowed the rest of her words.

Not the port-side hatch through which they’d emerged, but a starboard-side portal just ahead, between them and the sloping edge of the gondola. Long, hairy arms emerged, powerful muscles working beneath, and in a cloud of pure simian stink, a pair of gorillas emerged. Long machetes gleamed, clutched in their thick, gnarled hands.

“I swear,” Nora groaned, as the apes shuffled forward, grunting. “There needs to be, like a qualifying test for having opposable thumbs.”

“That’d make Arkansas a hell of a lot more interesting,” Sully replied, drawing a bead with her pistols.

“Hey, I’ve got cousins in Arkansas,” Nora protested, and the gorillas charged. Their machetes swung in sloppy, gleaming arcs.

Sully squeezed off a shot from each of her pistols, and the gorillas spun and died. “Stupid apes,” she sighed. Something inside her exulted in ways she found quietly frightening. “Bringing knives to a gunfight.”

Machine guns rattled, and bullets sparked and chattered off the crisscrossed steel cords behind them. Sully and Nora hit the deck as the port hatch overflowed with pursuing apes, the silverback they’d seen earlier leading the charge. More and more poured forth, crowding the top of the balloon, howling and shaking their guns in the air.

“You’ve just gotta gloat, don’t you?” Nora scowled at Sully, whose eyes narrowed above her makeshift mask. From within the starboard hatch just a few feet ahead, beyond the bodies of the dead apes, more hoots and growls echoed, and a second pack of gorillas began to emerge, teeth bared, hefting rifles and pistols and lengths of pipe.

Nora heard hissing, and looked up. Helium gas rushed in invisible jets from a scattering of ragged, fluttering bulletholes in the gasbag above. Her keen eyes flashed upon the machetes lying on the deck, just a few feet away, as the apes advanced with guns ready.

“If I had time to explain what I’m about to do,” she told Nora, reaching out to slide a machete scraping across the hull to her companion, “I’d want you to talk me out of it.”

“Good to know,” Sully said, holstering one pistol and gripping the machete, as Nora grabbed the other blade.

“On three,” Nora said, “we run for the other side. Start slashing the gasbag when we get there.”

“I’m not getting this plan,” Sully replied, “But it’s better than ‘get shot by gorillas,’ so…”

“One,” Nora said. The port-side crowd of apes sent a fusilade singing through the air above them. “Two.” The starboard troop drew close enough for her to smell their rotted-meat breath, to see the flies rising from their pelts. “Three!”

The women rose. The air erupted in roars and gunfire, sparks exploding from the steel cables all around them, as they ducked and leapt their way aft and toward the port side, away from the pursuing primate hordes.

“Slash the gasbags!” Nora roared, and punched the tip of her machete through the reinforced fabric above her. Gas rushed out, and she ran on, pushing the blade through the surface of the balloon, widening the fissure.

Sully reached the seam where one sealed compartment met the next and swung, her blade traversing a high, powerful arc; it sank through the bag above, rending open two compartments at once. And they ran on.

A chorus of bullets singing at their heels, the copse of anchor cables around them alive with firefly glimmers of ricochet sparks, Sully and Nora made ever-expanding V’s in the black, rustling surface of the balloon. Ahead of them, the fires still feeding on the engine room flared like blazing banners; behind them, the twin squads of apes had merged into a single charging crowd, firing wildly, rifle barrels glowing and sizzling as they began to overheat. In the rush of escaping helium, their hoots and shrieks became shrill, cartoonish.

Slowly, so slowly, the world began to shift beneath the women’s feet. Like a dying whale, the Faithless listed over further to port, as Nora and Sully robbed it of any buoyance on that side.

“It’s going over!” Sully shouted, as the balance of momentum finally tipped, and the deck on which they stood shifted irrevocably from horizontal to vertical. “Now what?”

“Climb!” Nora replied, scrambling toward the rising swell of the starboard side.

Machetes discarded to slide and skitter down to the deck and plunge off, they used the cables for leverage, climbing hand over hand up the steepening grade of the hull. Nora’s chest burned; the wind had blown most of the helium away from them, but what little had seeped into her lungs did her no favors now. Her foot slipped on the hull, and she nearly tumbled, clawing at the nearest cable for balance; Sully shot out a hand and held her fast until she found her footing again.

Behind them, gorillas clung to cables for dear life, or tumbled in hairy cannonballs screaming down the sloping black hull. Those with bullets remaining fired their guns wildly as they plunged, caroming off cables, to a last swim in the blue-green water far below. Seen from above, their impacts with the water bloomed like tiny pale wildflowers on the surface of the lake; and then a small churning; and then nothing.

Gasping for breath, Sully and Nora swung themselves past one last set of cables and threw their bodies full against the leveled-out hull, once the sheer starboard wall of the Faithless. Below, they could see the water, distant, but rising too quickly to meet them. Ahead, across a football field or more of riveted black metal, the starboard auxiliary pod — warehouse-sized itself — hung serenely from its own midnight balloon. The rusted metal walkway connecting it to the main gondola, and the snarled web of cables, were oddly angled against the hull by the Faithless’s lopsided lean, but they held true.

Strange weapons sprouted like gnarled trees from hinged ports along the side of the gondola. Sully saw serrated, multi-barbed harpoon guns, and thought of summers fishing with her father, the horrible ease with which the hook slid from the unprotesting meat of a captured fish’s mouth. Nora watched a blue ball of electricity coruscate at the tip of another cannon, feeling the faint prickle of current against her skin, even at several feet’s distance.

The wind blew harder now, here on the exposed flat of the hull, snatching at their clothing, leaning with a large dog’s mindless insistence against their chests. The women wound their way carefully between the jagged protrusions of weaponry, eyes always on the walkway. Seagulls had begun to dip and whirl around them, and dimly from below, they could hear the churn and slap of waves on the lake. Behind them, flames still consumed the flaccid, ruined compartments of the great black balloon. The Faithless was falling, and quickly.

Nora set one foot on the walkway and paused. She sucked fresh lake air deep into her lungs and exhaled.

“What?” Sully barked from behind her, over the wind. “What are you waiting for?”

“Apes!” Nora shouted back, prompting Sully to whirl around and check behind them. Nothing. “Apes, or more of those damn cables, or that lousy old scarface. I can’t believe we’re actually gonna get off this thing.”

Beneath her boots, Sully felt the hull begin to hum. Gears ground, motors whirred. With rising dread, she slowly turned again, to see the harpoons and electrical cannons and all of the Faithless’s terrible weaponry steadily grinding around to center on them.

“That,” Nora sighed, from some exhausted place far beyond terror. “I was waiting for that.”

Sully threw herself forward, smashing Nora to the clattering plates of the walkway, as a harpoon big as a dolphin whistled its way through the air where they had once been standing.

“Go!” Sully shouted, as she and Nora scrabbled for traction on the walkway. They lunged forward, racing across the fragile metal platform, as Hell itself filled the perilous air around them.

A ball of lightning burst forth from one of the Tesla cannons, scorching the trailing hem of Sully’s cloak as it tumbleweeded through the air. Chain-fed rivet guns chattered, chewing termite holes in the structure of the walkway. And all around them, harpoons sang deadly falsettos, plunging past to splash in the fast-approaching lake, or slamming point-first through the steel hull of the auxiliary pod ahead.

Sully should have been afraid. She wanted to be afraid. Next to this, being locked in a box would seem a blessing. And yet, pyrotechnics erupting all around her, she felt like she was on stage at last. Not watching from the cool shadow of the wings, but right there under the proscenium, at the center of all the energy, surrounded by miraculous danger. She was staring death right in its bleached, grinning visage, and beneath the sash across her face, the smile she turned back against it was its own.

The door was so close now, Nora could see the latch. She had raced and stumbled and shouted her way to a territory long beyond fear, and now everything around her took on the flat, cool, rational dimensions of the reports she had read every day. Terror and disaster stripped of their looming power, squeezed down genielike to alphanumeric codes. She watched a harpoon sail toward and just above her, the wind of it parting her hair, and marveled at how straight and keen it flew.

Then she turned back toward the door, and the world exploded bright blue in her face.

Eyes full of supernovas, she felt the ground fall away from her feet. Her blinded world pivoted, sharply, sickeningly, felt the meat of her side crash and swivel against the cold metal tube of the railing. She plunged, and something chill and elastic wrapped itself around her, twanged her to a stop.

Her vision returned, fighting away the moth-holes eaten in it, and she found herself staring up at the bottom of the walkway, Sully a shadow crouching down stretching out a hand. Her face stung, sunburnt. She tried to move her arms, and look, and saw them tangled in loops of coiled black tendrils.

And in a single instant, all her fear hit her full at the base of her brain.

She roared in terror, thrashing, and the cables grip seemed to give — and drop her inch by terrifying inch toward the water looming below!

A slim hand thrust itself full in her face. Sully, stretched out full on the walkway above, straining down to reach her.

“They’re dead, Nora!” she said, snatching the sash away so Nora could see her face. “They don’t move! Just relax. They only broke your fall.”

Heart hammering, Nora forced herself to be still, to spread her weight across the fragile web of cables that held her up.

“Good,” Sully called down to her. “Now, slow, easy. Just reach up to me.”

A harpoon slammed into the catwalk not ten feet behind her, severing nearly half its width. The whole thing shook, and Sully clung tight, bones rattling. Metal groaned as the auxiliary pod tried to pull itself up and away from the dying hulk of the Faithless. Bolts began to bend where the harpoon had struck, peeling up from its moorings the single slim plating that held the walkway together.

“Reach, dammit!” Sully cried. Their hands connected, slipped, grasped tight at last. Sully hauled, coronas of white-hot sparks bursting forth around her as vollies from rivet guns shredded the railings of the walkway. Nora gripped the walkway and dragged herself up. Beneath her, it twisted like a hangnail as the pull between the Faithless and the auxilliary pod inexorably tore it apart.

They crawled the remaining few feet to the door of the pod in a last, bitter storm of red-hot rivets from the Faithless’s cannons. Sully risked reaching up, sparks and shrapnel stinging through her gloves, as opened the door to chill, dim mustiness. They tumbled through and slammed the hatch tight; the point of a harpoon screeched through the door just above their heads and stopped, vibrating in some private key of mayhem.

Nora looked up, to the side of the hatch, and saw the lever, large and boldly marked: CATWALK RELEASE. She lunged up and pulled, with all her strength.

Outside, explosive bolts blew the walkway loose from the auxiliary pods; it twisted and tumbled away, dangled for a moment from the limping side of the Faithless, and then broke off, belly-flopping toward the lake below. The cables, now all that remained to link the ship and its offspring, stretched and writhed, and a dark shape seemed to ripple among them, pouring itself out from the belly of the Faithless. Then the tendrils snapped like piano strings, one by one, and the auxilliary pod lurched up into the sky, climbing back to the altitude for which it longed.

Farther below by the second, the Faithless bulged, then broke apart in clouds of fire. The few chambers of its gasbag still filled with helium burst. It fell, slapping against the green, murky depths of Lake Michigan in a mad froth of white foam and steam. And whatever dark secrets it still held sank with it to the silt and mud on the wide, lightless plain of the lakefloor, for the fish to ponder.

Sully and Nora sat for a while, backs to the cool metal of the door, thin light and bracing air dancing in their hair around the edges of the harpoon point above. They grinned like survivors.

The room was echoing and dim, lit by a few shabby pools of light — one above the door against which the women sat, another barely visible on the opposite side of the pod — and by needles of sunlight cast in from the fissures in hull where other harpoons had burst through. On the opposite side of the door from the catwalk release, Sully found a junction box, and ground the protesting switch upward into life.

Generators hummed, old flourescent lights buzzed and tank-tank-tanked themselves grudgingly on, and Nora let out a low whistle. It was a hangar. A smallish one, but still, there like silent stormtroopers in formation were row upon row of knife-sharp black-hulled fighter jets, the skull and crossbones painted across their tailfins. To their left, stretching across the front of the pod, a broad, segmented door waited; Nora could see tracks encasing it, running up to the ceiling.

“I think we found our way out,” Nora smiled, getting to her feet. Then she threw up her arms and whooped with delight. A week ago, the thought of getting into the cockpit of anything would have jellied her knees. Now it felt like a challenge.

“Not to be little miss killjoy,” Sully interrupted, tracing a streak in the dust across the nose of one fighter, “but, uh… you sure these things are still even working? Much less fueled?”

“What do you say we find out?” Nora asked, as they wandered into the center of the hangar. The pointed noses of the jets bristled out at them, expectant. Nora followed the shape of them with her eyes, imagining air currents flowing over their surfaces. They wanted the sky.

A dull scraping reverberated through the empty chamber, the sound clattering itself down off the ceiling above.

“See?” Sully grumbled, drawing her guns, looking around for the source of the noise. “Who's the gloater now, huh?”

“Easy, now,” Nora shot back, as her hand strayed inside her own jacket to rest on the grip of the pistol. “This thing’s old. Could’ve just been working the kinks out.” But she wondered: Had she had time to reload? How many shots remained? She patted one pocket and felt her spare bullets gone — fallen out, perhaps, when she nearly tumbled off the walkway.

“I really don’t think that’s it,” Sully cautioned, nodding back toward the door through which they’d entered.

Slowly, the harpoon head embedded in it had begun to turn. It rattled, lightly at first, then with sudden violence. Then it stopped, slid down limply against the door.

“Tell me that’s not who I think it is,” Sully growled, and Nora’s mouth went dry.

With a sudden shriek, the door tore off its hinges to flutter away. For a moment, empty sky blasted into the hangar — and then a creeping, many-fingered current of darkness rose and bubbled and seeped in around the edges.

As Sully and Nora backed away, the writhing mass of tendrils poured itself into the hangar, tiny metal teeth sinking themselves into the metal flooring, itsy-bitsy-spidering its way forward. And from the bulging, slithering mass of it, a face emerged, and the frail husk of a body.

Framed by the topography of scars upon her countenance, Wicked West’s eyes did not blaze with hatred, nor madness, nor fury. They were calm, and cold, and certain. They were absolutely terrifying.

“Now it ends, little ones,” she said to Nora and Sully, and the tendrils sprang forth to consume them both.

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