The Second Monster

Kain fell through the air. Buildings streamed past on either side of him as he zig-zagged in arcs over the street, constantly shifting what down meant for him so that he fell toward a building on one side of the street or another. Below him, people fled along the street in the opposite direction. Traffic inched along. The people on foot were moving much faster.

Kain breathed steadily. He would not allow himself to become tense. That would only lead to a loss of focus. He had seen the destruction wrought whenthe first monster had appeared in Anaselise. There, it had manifested in the middle of a busy street. Here, at least, the monster had come into being in the middle of a park.

Monster, he thought. He was used to using that term to refer to humans. The world contained plenty of human monsters, without having to see literal monsters appearing in the cities. He wondered what was causing this. One monster might have been an isolated incident, but two left him wondering. Likely it was some manic Powered, which meant that defeating the creatures would only stop the problem temporarily.

The wind rushed past Kain’s helmet. He had learned, when he was first testing out travelling in this way using his power, that having something to keep the bugs out of his face was a good idea. He secretly laughed at Powered who could fly or otherwise travel quickly who didn’t think to protect their faces.

With the park only a block away, Kain shifted what he thought of as gravity to a building directly behind him, slowing his fall. Then he brought it to a car on the ground behind him, causing him to arc slightly toward the street. Just as he touched the street, he allowed himself to experience true down. He stood in an intersection at the border of the park.

The monster standing in the center of the park towered over the trees. The crown of its head was level with the fourth story of the surrounding buildings. It had grey, wrinkled skin, which had the look of a bald mammal. It stood on two legs. Its long arms hung limp at its sides. The trees hid its hands and lower body from Kain’s view. Its face was a bizarre, indeterminate blend of mammalian features, with a protruding snout, short, sharp ears, and wide yellow eyes.

Those eyes look around in what Kain read as confusion. It blinked, turning its head to look around the park. It seemed that it hadn’t yet made any sort of action. That made sense, in a way. Kain had come as fast as he could, as soon as he had heard that another of the creatures had begun to appear. He had not viewed the first monster himself, or its manifestation, but he had watched a recording of its appearance. When this creature came, a cloud of ghostly blue lights would have appeared in the air, slowly coalescing and solidifying into the monster standing before him.

If the monster that had appeared in Anaselise could be used as a predictor for this creature’s behavior, it would become violent shortly.

Kain pulled his sword from his back. He squeezed the comfortable grip. In the hands of a human of mundane strength, or even those of a practiced bodybuilder, the large blade would have been unmanageable. She pulsed in his hand, pulling toward the monster. A single thread of electricity sparked out of her broad tip. That meant she saw it as an enemy, which was more than enough encouragement for Kain.

Kain hoped that he had been the first to get here. He hoped no other Powered had been nearby when the creature appeared, or at least, no Powered who had no hope of doing anything against a foe of this size. The laws of Chormanthyr would require them to make an effort to protect the mundane individuals threatened by the creature, even at the risk of their own life, or face legal repercussions. With luck, Kain could defeat the creature before any other lives were put at risk. His mental list of the registered Powered in the area told him he was likely the only one capable of doing so.

He decided not to wait until the creature grew violent. He changed his gravity so that he fell directly toward the monster. “Be ready, Elle!” he shouted to his sword. It seemed to pulse in reply. For any other foe, he would hesitate to draw his sword, for fear of harming her. He saw no sense in facing this foe without her.

Kain twisted in the air, bringing his feet between himself and the monster. He brought his sword between his feet so that as he struck the creature, it would slam into the monster’s flesh.

The monster didn’t even seem to notice his approach. As he fell, it brought its clawed hands up to regard them. It flexed its fingers. The movement shifted the beast just enough so that Kain’s attack didn’t strike it in the center of its chest, as he had intended.

Kain hit the creature hard, his blade slamming into the flesh of its shoulder. Electricity crackled. The smell of burned flesh filled the air. The muscles beneath the blade twitched and tensed The creature grunted. At Kain’s proximity, the sound practically vibrated his body. The creature noticed him for the first time.

It reached up with its right hand, seeking Kain as a person might an irritating insect. Kain yanked his sword from its flesh and ran up its body toward its back. As the curvature of the monster’s body shifted under his feet, Kain automatically changed the direction of his personal gravity, so that the creature’s flesh was always down for him.

He spun, running backward, as the monster’s clawed fingers drew near. He brought Elle up in an arc, striking hard at the beast’s palm. The blade cut a furrow in the beast’s flesh as electricity crackled across it. The creature roared, withdrawing its limb.

From the reports he had seen, the monster that had appeared in Anaselise had nothing other than its strength and impressive physical presence. It had been so destructive because of where it had appeared, far away from Powered who could easily deal with a threat of its size. This monster didn’t even seem entirely aware of the world yet.

Kain’s run took him to the creature’s back. There, between its shoulder blades, it could do little against him. He placed his palm on the creature’s skin. He had never tried to do this with a target of this size, but now might as well be the time. He shifted the way gravity behaved for the creature, causing it to fall backward toward the line of buildings on the other side of the park.

It worked. The creature tensed as its feet pulled away from the ground. It began to shift, attempting to bring its feet toward the new down, like a cat twisting in the air. Kain grabbed a fistful of its flesh in his hand in his struggle to refrain from being thrown free. Kain let it fall just long enough to disorient it. Then he changed gravity for it once more, toward the surface of Elal. Trees broke and screamed as it struck them, shattering branches, bending trunks, and tearing them from the ground.

Kain jumped free, pulling himself toward a tree with his power, then the ground. He struck the ground harder than he would have liked, forcing him to roll with the momentum.

The monster bellowed. It groaned. Kain frowned. At that volume, and low frequency, it was hard to say, but it sounded almost like a person… crying? Kain forced the thought out of his mind. This was no time for pity. The first monster had killed several people. He could not give this one the chance.

He jumped up, then changed his gravity so that he fell toward the monster. It had just begun to shift its arms, bringing them under itself in an attempt to rise. In several places, the broken bodies of trees pierced its flesh. Blue liquid poured from the wounds.

Kain landed on the monster’s neck. Elle pulsed in his hands, though it was not the pulse of warning that he knew so well. It felt more like a pang of regret, as though Elle didn’t wish to do what Kain planned. “I’m sorry, Elle.”

He shifted his gravity as the creature turned beneath him. If he didn’t act now, he would lose the chance he had bought by descending on the monster so quickly. He stepped toward the monster’s neck. He pulled Elle back behind him. “We have to do it. Rend, Elle.”

He swung with all the force he could muster. When he was young, just as he and his family were discovering his powers, his father had told him never to strike anyone with all of his strength. He had done so only once before, when a man had broken into their home. Now he did so again.

A maelstrom of force and electricity whipped around his sword as he swung. His sister’s spirit whipped it forth, adding to his power. The blade blasted through the monster’s throat, leaving a gaping wound that sizzled with arcs of blue lightning. Kain pulled himself away, avoiding the brunt of the blood that poured forth from the monster’s veins.

Kain landed on a still-standing tree several yards away, craning his neck to look up at the monster. It struggles stilled. Its blood ceased flowing. Its flesh began to lose solidity as it dissolved into motes of ghostly light. Kain watched it go as he brought Elle into his arms and held her in a silent embrace.

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