|What is Released
Author: Odette C. Bell PM
Lyza has a secret, she has an incredible power, and she is the last of her kind. She also has a mission - an unending task left to her by a long-dead race. The task is simply put - she must save monsters. But saving monsters isn't ever that simple.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Romance - Chapters: 3 - Words: 15,585 - Reviews: 13 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 04-20-12 - Published: 12-28-11 - id: 2983466
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Lyza Fairpoint rounded the corner of the ruined wall. Halifax, her trusted bodyguard, was just behind her, his footfall easy but quick.
Chunks of stone littered the tall, thick grass as it climbed up the pock-marked wall. Lyza leant right into it, let her back rest against the cold, uneven stone. She was waiting for something – a sound, a flash of light, the acrid taste of anticipation – anything that would let her know that it was coming back.
Halifax drew up beside her, clutching a gun in one hand, the other hand free to catch Lyza by the elbow. 'Ly,' he hissed quietly, 'don't go rushing in, not until-'
Lyza ignored him. At that moment she heard what she'd been waiting for. In the distance, just down the incline of the hill, came a sound. Metal on metal, the scratch of unglazed ceramic, the screech of fingernails over a blackboard – it was a sound that shifted through you with the immediacy and terror of a gunshot by your ear.
It was the sound of a Challenger.
Lyza primed herself to move, sucking in a breath and bringing her rod up before her. While Halifax had the reassurance of cold, hard steel to keep him confident, Lyza did not. Halifax had a gun; Lyza had a rod. Something's just weren't fair.
That being said, the long, sleek, white rod that Lyza now brought up before her with a flick of her wrist, was no ordinary rod. It was magical. Well, in a manner of speaking anyway. To someone not familiar with the technology behind the miracle, the white rod would have been akin to a sorcerer's staff, a wizard's wand, or a witch's broomstick. It was capable of emitting powerful bursts of energy that Lyza could bend to her will.
In reality, she could use it in just the same way that Halifax used his gun, but instead of sending out hurtling chunks of metal, her rod sent out blazes of white, hot energy. And while a bullet, carefully placed, was usually enough to bring down most men, Lyza's rod could bring down the house.
The only catch was it felt just like an ordinary stick. It was simple, with no real decoration, save for a pointed, clear crystal at the top, and a set of winding, golden runes at the bottom. It may, in reality, have been a powerful transformer of energy, but it still felt like Lyza had just grabbed at the first twig she'd seen, while Halifax had gone for the military-grade machine gun.
She set her teeth and whirled around the corner of the wall. She could feel the anticipation peaking inside her, the adrenaline washing over her, making her heart beat with a new frenzy, making her breath shallow and sharp. But she could also feel the pressure too. That inevitable pressure that came before action, like clouds before the storm.
It was already on dusk, and the sky was lit with a partial, golden glow. Scant clouds played against the darkening sky, their borders illuminated in tracks of orange, purple, and blue. The sound of crickets was starting to grow louder too, and several bats could now be seen darting to and fro through the darkened trees that rimmed this hilltop.
Lyza, still exposed, waited for the sound to repeat itself. Knuckles white, she clutched her rod before her, darting this way and that as she desperately searched for the Challenger.
Where was it; where was it?
The scattered ruins lay all around her, half-fallen walls and piles of stone peeking through the trees and tall grass. It was an old site, according to the wiki-search Lyza had done before arriving here. But standing here now, letting the energies wash over her, she started to appreciate just how old it really was.
Ancient, long past.
Halifax hissed at her to get back behind cover. He motioned her over with a flick of his large hands, finger-less combat-gloves a dark shade against his lighter skin. The Old Man, as she liked to call him, was starting to push fifty. Not that you could immediately tell. Halifax, upon first sight, could easily pass for a man in his late thirties. He was broad and tall, with an incredibly powerful build, and a powerful frown to match. Though the corners of his eyes were indented with lines, and his once black hair was now smattered with grey – it didn't change the intensity behind his gaze, not for a second. When Halifax was looking at you, you would often get the impression that, for that moment, nothing else existed for the bodyguard but you. He had all the concentration of a laser and the power of tempered steel.
He had an ageless quality about him too, a quality that Lyza had instantly recognised when she'd saved him all those years ago.
But now he was getting mad. 'Lyza,' he rounded the corner of the stone wall, obviously realising that she had no intension of hiding anymore. 'Be careful,' he drew up alongside her then took position behind her, staring out at the growing dusk with those laser-like eyes.
But once again, Lyza didn't listen to him. Because, once again, she heard the noise. This time it was coming from the trees. Just to their left a clump of four or five spruces pulled up against the horizon. They were dark and imposing, the scrub at their bases almost completely hidden by the long shadows of the dying day.
Skin prickling, Lyza dashed towards the sound. Her armour, if you could call it that, melded with her jeans and t-shirt, creating a costume that looked more like concept art from an 80's Glam rocker album, and less like the respectable get up of a modern woman. Around her neck and exposed arms wound tiny, glowing tendrils of metal. More like sparkling tattoos, the metal was raised just perceptibly above her skin. It flashed, sparked, and lit up at odd moments, like a wire receiving bursts of electricity.
The metal tendrils also snaked across her face, radiating out from her temples in strong lines that quickly disappeared into her flesh.
The effect of the armour was simple. It absorbed energy, diverting blasts from Lyza's environment into energy she could channel into the rod. In that way, each tendril was like a little antenna, picking up and converting each signal it received.
The visual effect of the armour, however, was not simple. It was ugly. It made Lyza look as if she had septicaemia or as if she'd attempted to dress up as a vaguely scary, mostly dumb looking Sci-Fi character.
As Lyza ran towards the trees she whipped her rod out before her, trying to push as much concentration as she could into her hands and fingers.
'Lyza,' Halifax raised his voice, tone tight with frustration and worry, 'wait.'
That was his motto: don't go rushing in. Always wait, consider, and plan.
Lyza's motto was move. Head forward, whatever the cost.
She saw it through the trees, crouching low, body obscured by the underside of several thick branches. Its feet, if you could call them that, were half buried under the dead, decaying spruce needles. Its skin was a visible white against the dark shadow around it. Its eyes… its eyes were human. They were large and blue, wet with emotion, and glinted in the bare light that made it under the trees.
A monstrous, hideous form, and a set of perfectly recognisable human eyes. The juxtaposition was sharp, bitter, and always managed to send a shiver down Lyza's spine.
For just a second she stood there, mind whispering to her to move, but heart dead with fear.
There was a saying from her people, a saying that always managed to creep into her consciousness when she peered at a Challenger: fear exists on the wingtips of hope. Lyrical, cryptic, but hardly a saying of note. But it had a kernel of truth. Hope and fear, she had been taught her whole life, were the same thing in reverse. One gave way to the other as sure as day gave way to night. Both were an emotional measure of uncertainty, a reaction to a desire yet to be fulfilled. Fear was the tension of a pressed, pressured hope; hope the freedom of a fear reversed.
In the place of the one, stands the other.
The thing moved. It blinked its wide, human-like eyes, then snarled through very animal-like teeth. Shoving its fleshy, sinewy paws into the ground, it launched itself forward.
The sound of crickets chirping in the dying light gave way to a sharp cry as Lyza fell backwards, trying to scramble out of the path of the Challenger.
Halifax swore from behind her, unleashing a quick volley from his machine gun. Though the bodyguard had expert aim, the creature was far too quick.
It dashed to the side, paws transforming into claws as it scrambled up the side of a darkened spruce. The sound of its talons slashing into the bark was like ball bearings crashing onto glass. It let out a howl too – something on the edge of a human scream and the strangled cry of a hawk after its prey.
Lyza forced herself to her feet as quickly as her petit form could manage. One hand on her rod, the other tightened into a fist, she stared at the tree above her, trying to catch a glimpse of the Challenger.
'We're not here to hurt you,' she tried, voice arcing with energy. 'I'm here to offer you release.'
Halifax, probably catching sight of the creature in the branches above, let off another volley of his gun.
Even though her bodyguard was apparently trying to shoot the creature, Lyza had been honest in her offer; she really was here to offer it release.
Several pine needles fell from above, brushing against Lyza's up-turned face with the light touch of feathers against skin.
Lyza whipped a hand through her shoulder-length black hair, dislodging the needles as she kept on staring above her.
She had to play it carefully; she always had to play it carefully. It was opposed to her head-strong nature, but Lyza still had to mollify her passion in the face of a Release.
Several more needles fell from above, this time striking against Lyza's long, dark lashes, and making her blink quickly.
Then it moved.
From above she heard an ominous cracking, then a soft whoosh of air.
Halifax had made it half way through a warning shout before the thing was on Lyza. It jumped right on top of her, paws pressing down on her chest, driving her to the ground.
It felt like a tidal wave slamming into her, or being tackled by pro-wrestler. By the time she hit the earthy-smelling ground, the wind had already been forced from her lungs.
The Challenger had a second to leer into her face, its watery, human eyes wide with interest. Then Halifax slammed into its side. He barrelled into it, wrapping one powerful arm around its middle and hurling it off Lyza with a suitably manly grunt.
The thing let out a keening cry that shot around the trees with all the alarm and volume of a klaxon.
Lyza rolled over, pushed into her hands, and got to her feet. She turned to see Halifax still grappling with the creature, gun no longer in his grip.
Not that the gun would do any good - not really. Yes, it could stun the creature; yes, it could do enough momentary damage to give a couple of second's reprieve. But it couldn't kill it, because the thing couldn't die.
It was the First Law of Thermodynamics, after all – energy can neither be created nor destroyed – and this thing was energy. Yes it had a form - a confused, horrible visage – but that didn't change its essential nature. Under the mask was movement and heat. Plain and simple.
'I can release you,' Lyza repeated, voice dipping up and down with stress. She clutched the wand before her, staring down at the creature as it grappled with her bodyguard. She had to wait for the right moment, wait for-
The Challenger opened its jaw, right in front of Halifax's face, and let out the most chilling of cries. More needles fell from the spruces above, the note of the thing's screams vibrating at such a loud, unsettling pitch.
'Lyza,' Halifax managed through clenched teeth as he tried to keep the Challenger in a head lock, 'what are you waiting for? Do it.'
Lyza let the energy pool inside her, shutting her mind to all distractions save for the immediate task at hand. It was like walking through a hall of doors, closing and locking each as she travelled forward. Every drain on energy was removed, until all she could see, all she could think of, was Release.
Channelling herself into the rod, Lyza let out a brief cry, before a bright light seared from the tip. The light concentrated into a beam, like a laser, slamming into the creature and knocking it off Halifax.
She hated to fight, but she had to bring it into some form of submission. Guns, sticks, magical rods, light – it didn't matter, whatever tool she had at hand she would use in order to bring a Challenger to its knees.
There had to be submission before there could be release. There had to be a blackening, a burning, before there could be transformation.
The Challenger twisted in the air, managing to land on its feet several meters away.
Its skin had been seared by the blast, a large ring of blackened flesh at its side.
It hissed at her, cried, screamed, shouted.
Simply put, it objected to her attack.
Halifax, grunting, rolled to his feet, aiming himself at the creature. Even though he was a planer, Halifax was also a man of action.
And even though Lyza only ever believed in moving forward, sometimes she found herself standing still.
'Ly,' Halifax snapped, 'now.' He dropped to his feet as he reached the creature, pivoted, and managed to send a low kick across the back of the creature's legs.
Still shocked by the blast, the Challenger fell forward, human-like eyes still with fear.
She felt the bitter taste of panic, and choked in a breath. Bringing the rod up, hands shaky, she waited.
'Now,' Halifax cried again, voice tight with anger, 'It's down; do it now.'
So she did. She let her rod drop to the ground, and it fell softly on the bed of pine needles with a tiny thud. Knees shaking, she lurched forward. Reaching the creature, she dropped down beside it.
She could smell its fear. She could see its fear. It covered it like a blanket, like a prison.
It was her job to break the walls of that prison, and to lift the cloth off the Challenger's eyes – freeing it to the universe of eternity.
Around her, Lyza could feel the energies gather. Things began to crackle, to buzz, and to zip. It was like standing under 100,000 volt power lines. Halifax's short hair even began to stand on end.
Fear and hope are two sides of the same coin. In kind, the ancient teachings taught, freedom and containment were but the same thing in reverse. When one was contained, they were not free; and where one was free, they were not contained. But neither could exist without the other, and both were a reaction to the same thing – direction. The erratic and spontaneous was freedom embodied, while the directed and controlled was containment in totality.
The creature before her, the Challenger, was contained. It was trapped, suppressed, restrained. Directed into a single point of anger. The form it took - the mangled, hideous mask it wore – it was all a representation of the convulsing forces within. Trapped in a point of time and space, the energy of the creature contorted like an animal writhing in pain.
This was what the ancients taught.
And it was Lyza's job to release it.
Shaking with her own fear, Lyza reached out a hand to the creature, fingers stiff and unyielding.
The Challenger snapped at it, fangs glinting in the light. But Halifax managed to secure his arm around its throat, bring it back just in time.
Lyza kept her hand reaching out to the creature, palm slick with sweat, but intention clear.
She wanted to hold its hand.
And no, this wasn't some kitch Beetle's song; Lyza really wanted to hold the pallid flesh of the monster's hand. Because, its skin against hers, she would be able to channel its energy through her body and allow it release.
Again the creature snapped at her, limbs flailing, but again Halifax managed to pull its head back before it managed to bite off one of Lyza's fingers.
Then Lyza did it. Closing her eyes with a desperate twitch, she just plunged her hand forward, grabbing at where she knew the creature's hand to be.
It resisted, arm twitching, claws slicing out of its paw and threatening to tear through Lyza's flesh. But she didn't let go, she just held on.
Lyza's armour had many uses, and while it would hardly stop a bullet or do any good against a knife, it was made for moments like this. The tendrils of metal picked up energy and transformed it, grounding it through Lyza like an earthing wire, and allowing her to send the energy to wherever she pleased.
Its flesh was cold, wet, and felt like melted plastic-wrap that had been left out in the rain. She felt repulsed by it, throat gagging, and stomach churning. But she kept it in hand.
And then it happened. Just as the Challenger bucked again, its original power returning, the dam broke, so to speak.
Its human eyes widened, white rimmed, but no longer fearful. Its body jolted with surprise, those eyes still wet and sparkling.
And then it stopped.
Through Lyza rushed a storm. A blast of electricity, a roll of lightening, a complete wash of energy.
All the contorted energy that was trapped within the Challenger finally released itself. It channelled through Lyza's hand and down into the earth below their feet.
The once contained was now released.
The thing's paw grew limp, its claws retracting in an instant. In fact, its whole form simply stopped moving, stopped jittering, stopped twitching, stopped breathing.
Halifax waited a moment, then let go of his headlock, pushing himself quickly away from the creature. He bent down to Lyza, grabbed her wrist, and gently pried her hand free, letting the Challenger's paw fall to the ground.
Blinking, Lyza took a rattling sniff then looked up at Halifax.
'It's done.' He pulled her to her feet. 'Come on, Ly.'
As Halifax pulled her backwards, the Challenger unwound. It was like watching a knot untie itself – the form of the creature simply pulling away from itself, like string unwinding from a bobbin.
Halifax kept pulling her back. And Lyza, form limp from fatigue, just let him.
Both of them stared at the thing, though, as it simply unmade itself before them. Light burst through its form as more and more of itself unwrapped around the core. Then it simply burst into light entirely, the final fragments of flesh and bone turning into crackling twinkles in the growing dark.
As the final light of the creature ebbed, Lyza heard another sound. Far off, at the edge of hearing, and the edge of time, she heard children playing. They were laughing, singing, telling stories. One of the stories was about the monster that lived on the top of the hill, the monster that everyone feared. It took children, they repeated, killed lambs, even destroyed buildings. It was responsible for all the bad in the village, the children told each other.
Halifax turned to look at Lyza, and ran a hand through his sweat-slicked hair. 'It's always creepy when you hear its memories,' he noted, voice now completely free from stress and anger. That was the thing about Halifax - he could switch very easily from danger to safety. And, considering both his jobs, that was really a very good thing.
Lyza just nodded, eventually running a finger across her nose and sniffing. She couldn't talk right now, the fight was still too fresh, and the Release still ringing in her ears.
Eventually the sound of children's voices ebbed, finally giving way to the crickets and the hum of a cold, autumn's night.
Halifax was right, though, it was creepy when you heard a Challenger's memories. Tiny snippets that explained how the monster might have come to be. Memories, voices, trails of laughter leading into the darkness – whenever a Challenger was released, it always allowed a glimpse into its life. It's reason for becoming.
And though Lyza never got the full story, it was all she could manage anyway. Her job was to Release the Challenged, not to document their life stories. The entire process was already too frightful and tyring without the added pressure of attempting to understand exactly how these monsters came to be. Plus, she didn't need to understand them to help them. All she had to do was unwind them, break them free of the energies that contained them.
She finally took a very deep sigh, turning to Halifax, and leaning heavily on his arm. 'That was tiring,' she said through another deep breath.
Halifax raised an eyebrow, shoring his arms up as it supported Lyza. 'When isn't it, Ly?'
They stood there in the dark for several more seconds. The sounds of the hilltop had changed. Somehow, harmony had returned. The dark shapes melded with the sounds of insects and the earthy smell of dirt and wet grass. It all worked together, singing the same song of nature. Whereas once this hill had been as frightful as a haunted house, it now simply was.
'Come on, time to get back. People will notice I'm missing soon,' Halifax said, tugging on Lyza's arm.
'No one's going to notice I'm missing,' Lyza managed with a harrumph. 'Unless they need some last minute archiving, that is.'
'Better you're out of the way, Ly - you really want people knowing what you do on your time off?' Halifax had his large hand over Lyza's wrist, and was tugging her along in the darkness.
'I'm a watered-down librarian,' Lyza chuckled, 'at least you're the Head of Security. At least you actually make money and, I don't know, have credibility.'
'Do you always have to get this down after a fight?' Halifax shook his head. 'We've been over this a thousand times. Your job might not be fantastic, but it keeps you close to me and close to our targets.'
'I know,' Lyza let her gaze drift around her, confident that Halifax was in the lead. The energy on the hill really was starting to lift. It felt, as stupid as it sounded, like the ground itself was giving a mighty sigh and getting back to doing what it had always wanted to – just being.
'Working for Mr Bennet is a perfect cover,' Halifax really had said this a thousand times. 'We work for him during the day, and work for the world at night,' his tone had a whimsical note.
Lyza let out a soft laugh. She really wouldn't know what she'd do without Halifax. He was her rock, her anchor, her only help, and her only real friend.
As they walked from the cover of the trees, they could make out the glint of the town below. Its lights were almost cheery against the dark of the night.
'You going to be okay for work tomorrow?' Halifax's voice had obvious concern.
Lyza took an enormous sigh and nodded. 'I should be, after a proper night's rest, that is.'
'Okay,' Halifax stopped at the edge of a stone circle, 'you ready to go back home?'
'I thought maybe we could go into town - there was a nice looking Indian rest-'
'What, so you can fall asleep in your bowl of curry? I don't think so,' Halifax ticked his head back and forth, then finally nodded meaningfully at Lyza. 'Plus, we should really get out of here; someone might have heard the gun-fire.'
'I told you to bring a silenced pistol or something.' Guns weren't really Lyza's thing, but she did know that machine guns were always of the noisy variety.
'Don't fire quick enough. And when you are dealing with something that can move in the blink of an eye, you need quick. Plus, this hill is far enough away from town-'
From below the hill, voices began to filter up through the darkness. The voices were of the tight, scared variety. The kind of variety that was wondering why on Earth there had been machine-gun fire from the top of a little hill in backwater country England….
'Move,' Halifax said in a low voice.
And she did. Whipping a very special stone from her pocket, Lyza clutched it in her hand. In her other hand she still held her rod, and with sufficient pressed-lipped concentration, she managed to activate the stone.
Halifax hooked his arm over her elbow. 'Best way to travel, this.'
The stone in Lyza's hand gave the faintest of sounds – a soft click, like a key in a lock. Then light erupted from the stone, pouring over Lyza and Halifax and covering them completely.
In another second both of them had disappeared, leaving nothing but indented grass and a strange crackle in the air.