As the music ended, everyone in the room cheered and whistled. Peter kissed the tips of his fingers and flung them outward. “Y’all are some bad motherfuckers! Thank you! Thank you!” DJ Wreckage curtsied beside him, taking large, exaggerated bows.
At that moment, Dee’s voice boomed through the gym. “Yawn. Seen it before.” She was holding a mic, grinning at the students from behind the turntables.
“This is the lamest prom in the history of proms. Let’s kick this shit into high gear.”
It had been eighty years since Holly had entered the golden pyramid.
The dusty halls were plain and featureless, an endless maze of torch-lit corridors. She’d run out of provisions long ago. Surprisingly, she didn’t need to eat or drink. The pyramid’s magic kept her alive. A dim part of her found this amazing, but she was too worn down to give it much thought. A lifetime—
—of tedium had drained her of passion, bled her of interest. She was a brutish ghost, haunting the guts of an empty monument. Who was I? she wondered. Who am I? Her previous life was a fanciful dream. A fantasy of someone who barely existed.
Or worse—someone who existed but didn’t matter.
I matter. I do.
She clung to this thought with stubborn obstinacy.
But her endless slog made it into a lie.
Dee’s aura shifted abruptly, exploding with jags and nasty spikes. Peter glanced to either side, locking eyes with Kora and Eun. [Zen zaps!] he projected in body-language somatics. [Now!]
The three teens stuffed some mushrooms into their mouths. A snap of Peter’s fingers and their perception went Slideways. The double O negative had already done it to a mild degree; now their senses went full-on psychonaut.
Ten-foot spider legs erupted from Dee, snaking down from her belly and lifting her body up off the floor. Her torso and limbs were covered in flames—purple-black lashes that flailed about in whip-like tendrils. Jeff Gormley yelled: “Holy shit—she’s on fucking FIRE! And she’s got motherfucking SPIDER LEGS!”
Dissona plunged a foreleg into Jeff’s mouth. The Pain Lord’s limbs were apparently probosci—she was drinking his essence like a thirsty athlete gulping water. He was quickly reduced to a mummified husk.
“AHHHHHH…FINALLY!” she declared in a double-toned voice. “BEEN WAITING TO EAT FOR THREE GODDAMN MONTHS!” Prom-goers scattered in every direction, screaming and shoving as they fled for their lives.
Peter’s eyes steeled over. [Go-time.] he projected. [Battle-suits.]
The teens nixed their suits’ transparency—“Light-speed ninjas”—and grabbed the tabs on the sides of their dresses (tuxedo, in Peter’s case). Their clothing slid off in a whispery ruffle, revealing sleek-as-fuck, diode-lined uniforms.
“THINK YOUR TECH CAN DEFEAT MY SORCERY?” Dissona thundered. “THINK AGAIN, FUCKWITS!” Her foreleg slid out of Jeff with a wet, lubricious SPLUTCH. She turned to Blake. “KEEP THEM BUSY,” she ordered. “I’M ABOUT TO GO CHEAT-DAY CRAZY!” Blake and his followers dropped and spasmed, their tuxes shredding as demonic carapaces pushed through their skin.
Peter smirked. [Not a problem. We’ve beaten these fuckers a thousand times over.]
“I KNEW WHAT YOU WERE DOING, ASSWIPE!” Dee decapitated Sophie Alonzo with a spiny-legged swipe, then snatched up her spurting corpse. ‘BLAKE AND HIS IDIOTS NEVER TAPPED THEIR FULL POTENTIAL! PREPARE TO GET BEATEN AND FUCKED TO DEATH!”
Dee hoisted Sophie into the air, drinking greedily from her spurting neck-stump. Freshets of red poured down Dee, painting her dress with crimson streaks.
Blake and his friends, now transformed into beast-ass demon-jocks, rose to their feet. Dee broke through the wall into downtown San Francisco. Yells of “Oh my God!” and “What is THAT?” filtered in from the busy streets.
“AU REVOIR, FUCKSTICKS. HAVE FUN GETTING TORTURED! AHAHAHA!!!”
The thing called Holly had spent a thousand years inside the pyramid. She was supposed to find something. The Eye of Skylor? Scylash?
She shook her head, irritated by her fickle memory.
After another millennia of aimless wandering, her desire gave way to faint curiosity. Why was the pyramid keeping her alive? Was she alive? Had she been eaten by a face-stealer, only to fall into a strange, maudlin limbo?
And the question that nagged her with increasing persistence: should she sit down and stop?
No. She set her jaw and kept trudging. She was supposed to punish. She was supposed to rule. She was meant to control, goddammit.
As those thoughts bubbled to the fore—the only thoughts that evoked any form of passion in the past five centuries—she found what she’d been looking for.
Peter ran toward the first demon-jock (Bryce Kelsey) and launched into a Bruce-worthy side kick. As his foot connected, his battle-suit’s diodes lit with a flash (its cutting-edge circuitry converted kinetic energy into channeled light) and he hit the ground rolling. Bryce stumbled back and growled in frustration, just as he had in their previous fights, but this time, instead of charging, he rooted his weight and aimed his fist. Misty calculus ran up and down his arm, forming into a hellish version of Senkilo’s Cannon.
Uneven shards spat from the barrel, following Peter as he cut diagonally into another roll. He flowed to his feet and jacknifed over the unattended DJ stand. Munitions followed, cutting through turntables, mixers, and DJ Wreckage’s open laptop. Peter rolled again and kept running, veering left and heading for a wall.
[Guys!] he projected. [They’re packing magical firearms!]
Kora reached in her utility belt for her key-ring weapons, tossed them up and yelled the magic phrase that made them change into a sword and shield. At the same time, she jumped into a somersault and grabbed her gear.
She took a lunging step, slashed a pair of demons across their chests, then shot past them and spun on her knees. She briefly became a waist-high whirlwind, slashing three more jocks across their thighs and shins. She coiled her body, intent on leaping into an aerial twist, but a barrage of black-green bolts forced her to duck behind her shield. She leaned into its curve and gritted her teeth, rocking jerkily with each blast.
[Come on Peter!] Eun whirled into a perfect wheel-kick, catching Larry Helsinki in the center of his neck. Her suit channeled the kinetic energy throughout its circuitry and fed it back into Larry’s neck, amplifying her strike by orders of magnitude. Bright purple sparks leapt off her toes, singing the air in front of his face.
‘RUAH!” Larry swiped the air and backpedaled wildly. “RUK KRYAK KIKH!” Angry sores arose on his throat, courtesy of Eun’s supercharged kick. The burns on his neck were weepy and pustulent—they spat and bubbled with stinky yellow goo.
A few yards left, Peter chin-checked Blake with a rising uppercut, lighting his suit with a Tron-style gleam. [We can hurt them with our suits’ electrokinetics! This is a helluva lot better than dumbbells and weight pins!] he crowed.
[Watch out, Peter!] Eun spear-tackled him, right before two demonoids leapt at the space he’d just occupied. Their heads collided with a painful THUNK.
Magic wrist-guns, rifles, and shoulder-launchers tore up the fixtures. Kora ran sideways, hunched behind her shield, while Peter and Eun sprinted away from each other, towards the walls of the chaotic ballroom.
Eun ran up a pillar and somersaulted off it. She landed on Jayce Wilson’s shoulders—calves on his chest, thighs squeezing his ears—and arched backward, palming the floor and using her thigh-hold to throw him by the head. He flipped upside down and landed on his skull, piercing the floor with his devilish horns. Eun shot to her feet and spun into a side kick.
“FUCK you!” she yelled, hitting his sternum while he was still in the air. Jayce went flying back into the empty DJ stand, smashing it into a bajillion fragments.
Peter, meanwhile, whirling across the floor like a breakdancing dervish, throwing a flurry of chops and kicks, putting Tekken’s Eddie Gordo to absolute shame. The air around him cracked and popped, a razzle-dazzle storm of suit-born energy.
“RUK QARTHOT YIKH THANTER!” Blake screamed, grabbing demons by their shoulders and throwing them left and right. It wasn’t random; the head jock was arranging them into a rough firing line.
[Eun! Kora!] he projected. [WE NEED TO—]
[Cover your ears, close your eyes, and GET LOW!] Eun shouted. She whirled in place, arms slicing out as she cast the spell called Barrion’s Blind. Marble-sized orbs zipped from her fingers, right into the middle of the demonoid jocks. The three teen-heroes dropped to the floor and flattened out. Kora couldn’t completely cover her left ear (due to the fact she was holding a shield), but she tried to make do.
The orbs detonated, filling the air with skull-shattering pops. Even though Peter had closed his eyes, sunfire radiance leaked past his lids. Concussive force rattled his guts, assaulting his body with violent tremors. He paid close attention to each explosion, waiting for them to subside so he could—
[Go!] Eun projected.
Peter charged the nearest jock, throwing wing-chun short-strikes and Keysi elbow slashes. He drove Aiden Hansley a dozen yards back before dropping to a haunch and kicking out his feet with a kung-fu backsweep.
[They’re not going down, even when I cut them!] Kora emoted wildly. [They’re a helluva lot tougher than—]
Peter saw her punt a demon square in the crotch (under normal circumstances, it would have smashed a regular pair of testicles and guaranteed a cringe-inducing surgery) and knee him in the chin as he bent over. She circled her blade into a reverse grip, point down, and plunged it into the jock’s back.
[HYAAAH!!!] She freed her sword and spun away.
A flash of horror ran through Peter—Kora had impaled him, for fuck’s sake—but it disappeared a second later. The demon had morphed into its human counterpart: Todd Murphy.
Still breathing, still alive.
[Okay, got it. I need to pierce them—run them through.] Kora skip-stepped forward, hit a deep lunge, and thrust her sword into Chet Walker. She ducked a claw-swing and kick-flipped Tagg Swanson beneath the chin, lighting her boots with twin flares of feedback as one leg followed the other. As Tagg recoiled, she completed her somersault and punched her sword in and out of his red-skinned torso.
[Eun,] Peter began, [We need to—]
[—protect her flanks.] Eun finished. [I know!]
They fell in on either side of the barbarian princess, beating the shit out of any dickhole who tried to close with her. The air sizzled with gleams and flashes as their gloved fists and bootied feet amplified the force of their psychedelic strikes. The three teens were putting on a show, better than Disney World’s gaudiest attraction.
[We got ’em on the ropes!] Peter shouted.
Kora kept going, knocking jocks off-kilter with a lightning-fast combo or decisive throw. Once they were stunned, she’d run them through with her True-forged sword, reverting them back to their human form.
[Blake’s the last one!] Eun powered into a spinning roundhouse, cracking Drew Bilderberg soundly on the temple. As he half-stepped sideways, Kora speared him through the guts.
Blake let loose with a hip-held machine gun that appeared to be made out of squirming black mist. Spiky little rounds—jagged black shapes that chattered and sparked off Kora’s shield—tore apart the surrounding architecture. Once again, she had to hunker down.
[Peter! Eun!] Kora projected. [He’s got me pinned! I need a diversion!]
[On it.] Peter and Eun replied simultaneously. They ran in arcing loops across the floor, closing with Blake on his unprotected flanks. The jock swiveled his head, snarling in fury. He couldn’t target them and suppress Kora at the same time.
Peter leapt high, left foot cocked underneath, right foot extended. Eun did the same, only from the opposite side.
Peter started: [You are—]
[FUCKED!] Eun finished. They kicked Blake’s head at the same time, lighting a pair of basketball-sized sparks by the demon’s ears.
“RUUUHH!!” Blake swung around, peppering the walls with hellish bullets. Studs and drywall burst and popped. Kora, no longer pinned by his unholy barrage, ran directly at him.
Peter and Eun hit the ground rolling, their perception decelerated by their zen zap high. Kora’s steps echoed loudly, punctuated by the thunder of Blake’s hip-cannon. Her enchanted blade rose above her head, catching the light like a steely scorpion tail.
Blake saw her coming. His eyes said it all; he knew he was fucked.
Kora’s sword came down toward his chest, blazing like an exploding star, then—
—plunged directly into the base of his throat, sliding through his body and skewering his organs. He stumbled back, the hilt of her blade protruding from his clavicles.
“Dude,” Peter muttered. “Demon shish-kebab.”
Kora yanked her weapon out. Light poured from the wound; the three teens covered their eyes. When they opened them, they saw that Blake had reverted to human form.
“Wha…what just…” He was on his knees, looking at his hands.
His eyes drifted up, regarding his former enemies as if they were strangers.
“How did I…what did you…” His face expressed a mess of emotions—horror, anxiety, and a deep, unwanted knowledge that echoed through the eons—but they dropped away an instant later.
“I…I.. don’t remember,” he said slowly.
But this was a lie. They could see it in his gaze.
Blake closed his eyes. He was already on his knees, but now he sat back like a kneeling samurai. His face settled, his body calmed. His aura started going batshit crazy. It had previously been stuffed with gloating emojis and boastful muscle men, all circling in a clockwise gyre, but now it began to switch directions—every symbol spun backwards, whirling left instead of right.
Then they slowed and settled into place, noticeably smaller. Peter, Kora, and Eun took a step back.
[Whoa…] Peter murmured.
Blake looked around, puzzled. “What just happened? Why is the dance floor all…” He got to his feet and dusted himself off. “Where is everybody? Did I miss the after party?”
The three teens exchanged incredulous glances.
[Holy shit—] Peter began.
[—he erased his memory.] Eun looked him up and down, astonished and horrified.
Blake Turner, through sheer force of will, had forgotten who he was.