It felt like Peter had been dancing forever…and it also felt like he’d just begun.
As the music ended, everyone in the room began cheering and whistling. He kissed his fingers and flung them out to all and sundry. “Y’all are some bad motherfuckers! Thank you! Thank you!” Wreckage curtsied, taking large, exaggerated bows.
At that moment, Dee’s voice boomed through the gym. “Yawn. Seen it before.” Her words were followed by a squelch of feedback. She was holding a mic up to her face, 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 and bled her of interest. She was a brutish ghost, haunting the guts of an empty monument. Who was I? she’d wonder. Who am I? Her previous life seemed like 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!]
They stuffed handfuls of mushrooms into their mouths. A snap of his 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’s belly, pressing down and lifting her feet up off the floor. Her entire body was covered in flames—purple-black lashes that flailed about in whip-like tendrils.
A guy called out: “Holy shit—she’s on fire! And she’s got motherfucking SPIDER LEGS!”
Dissona plunged a foreleg into the dude’s mouth (Peter recognized him as Jeff Gormley). The Pain Lord’s limbs were apparently probosci—the one inside Jeff 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 three teens grabbed the tabs on their dresses (tuxedo, in Peter’s case), and yanked them outward. Their garments slid off in a whispery ruffle, revealing sleek-as-fuck, diode-lined uniforms.
“YOU THINK YOUR PALTRY TECH CAN DEFEAT MY SORCERY?” Dissona thundered. “THINK AGAIN, FUCKWITS!” Her right foreleg slid out of Jeff with a wet, lubricious SPLUTCH. She waved dismissively at her three teen enemies. “KEEP THEM BUSY,” she ordered Blake. “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 HAVEN’T YET TAPPED THEIR FULL POTENTIAL! PREPARE TO GET BEATEN AND FUCKED TO DEATH!”
Dee lifted Sophie’s spasming, headless body into the air, drinking from her neck-stump with greedy fervor. The world-ender’s eyes bulged obscenely as freshets of red poured down her face, painting her dress with crimson streaks.
Blake and his companions, 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 outside.
“AU REVOIR, FUCKSTICKS. HAVE FUN GETTING TORTURED! AHAHAHA!!!”
The thing called Holly had now spent a thousand years inside the pyramid. She vaguely recalled she was supposed to find something. The Eye of Skylor? Scylash?
She couldn’t remember. All she knew was she had to keep going. Her entire being had congealed around that singular need. 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 shook her shaggy, white-haired head and kept trudging. She was supposed to punish. She was supposed to rule. She was meant to control, goddammit.
As that thought bubbled to the fore—the only thought 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 leapt high into a Bruce-worthy side kick. As his foot hit, 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. Dark, misty calculus ran up and down his wrist, 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 top of the DJ stand. The munitions followed, cutting apart turntables, mixers, and DJ Wreckage’s open laptop. Peter rolled again and kept running. He veered left and headed for a wall.
[Guys!] he projected. [They’ve got arcane firearms!]
Kora reached in her utility belt for her key-ring weapons, tossed them into the air, and yelled the magic phrase that made them change into a full-size sword and shield. At the same time, she jumped into a somersault. On her second flip, she grabbed her gear and landed on her feet, taking a lunging step and slashing two demons across their chests. Light-filled scars opened on their torsos, flaring into blinding supernovas as she charged past them and spun on her knees. She briefly became a waist-high whirlwind and slashed three more jocks across their thighs and shins. Kora coiled her body, ready to leap into a 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 wheel-kick, catching Larry Helsinki in the center of his neck. Her battle-suit channeled the kinetic force 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 Larry’s face.
‘RUAH!” He swiped the air as he backpedaled wildly. “RUK KRYAK KIKH!” Angry sores arose on his throat. Unlike his craggy red skin, the boils on his neck were weepy and pustulent—they spat and hissed 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 these assholes with our suits’ kinetics! This is a helluva lot better than using dumbbells!] he crowed.
[Watch out, Peter!] Eun spear-tackled him, right before two demonoids leapt at the space he’d just occupied. Their horned heads collided with a painful THUNK.
Peter rolled right, Eun rolled left. It was just in time—magic wrist-guns, rifles, and shoulder-launchers tore up the ballroom. Kora ran sideways, hunched behind her shield, while Peter and Eun sprinted towards opposite sides of the room.
Eun ran up a wall and flipped off it. She landed on Jayce Wilson’s shoulders—calves on his chest, thighs tight around his ears—and arched backward, palming the floor and using her thigh-squeeze to throw him by his head. He flipped upside down and landed on his skull, punching a small pair of holes in the oak-paneled floor with his devilish horns. Eun shot to her feet and spun into a side kick.
“FUCK you!” she yelled, kicking him square in the sternum while he was still in the air. The kinetic feedback became a pixelated shower of glowing tendrils. Jayce went flying back into the unattended DJ stand, smashing it into a bajillion fragments.
Peter, meanwhile, was whirling across the floor like a breakdancing dervish. He threw a flurry of chops and kicks, putting Tekken’s Eddie Gordo to absolute shame. The air around him was cracking and popping, a razzle-dazzle storm thanks to his suit.
“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, slicing her arms out like an anime ninja and casting the spell known as Barrion’s Blind. Shimmering, marble-sized orbs zipped from her fingers, right into the midst 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 innocuous-looking orbs detonated with skull-shattering pops. Even though Peter had closed his eyes, bright, sunfire radiance leaked past his lids. Concussive force rattled his insides, assaulting his body with violent tremors. He paid close attention to each detonation, waiting for the explosions to stop so he could—
[Go!] Eun projected.
Peter surged to his feet and charged Aiden Hansley, throwing a fusion combo that mixed wing-chun short-strikes and Keysi elbow slashes. He drove the jock back a dozen yards before dropping to a haunch and kicking his feet out with a kung-fu backsweep.
[They’re not going down, even when I cut them!] Kora emoted wildly. [Dee’s given them some extra juice! They’re a helluva lot tougher than—]
Peter looked over and saw her soccer-punt a demon right 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 center of the jock’s back.
[HYAAAH!!!] She pulled the sword out and spun away.
Peter felt a flash of horror—Kora had impaled him, for fuck’s sake—but it disappeared a second later. The demon was morphing into a fully human version of Todd Murphy. Still breathing, still alive.
[Okay—got it. Just need to pierce them.] Kora skip-stepped forward in a deep lunge, thrusting her sword through Chet Walker. She ducked a claw-swing and kick-flipped Tagg Hansley beneath his chin. Her boots lit with twin flares of feedback as one leg followed the other, somersaulting her torso fully around. As her assailant recoiled, she landed lightly and punched her sword in and out of him.
[Eun,] Peter began, [We need to—]
[—protect her flanks.] Eun finished. [I know!]
The two teens fell in on either side of Kora, beating the shit out of any dickhole who tried to close with her. The air popped with sizzling gleams as their gloved fists and bootied feet amped up the force of their psychedelic strikes. The three-teen heroes were putting on an arcane lightshow, better than Disney World’s gaudiest attraction.
[We got ’em on the ropes!] Peter shouted.
Kora pushed forward, knocking jocks off-kilter with a lightning-fast combo or decisive throw. Once they were stunned, she’d ram her sword through their hell-skinned chests, inflicting a wound that would force-revert them to human form.
[Blake’s the last one!] Eun powered into a spinning roundhouse, cracking Drew Bilderberg on the side of his neck. As he half-stepped sideways, Kora speared him through the chest.
Blake let loose with a hip-held machine gun that appeared to be made out of squirming black mist. Its spiky little rounds—jagged black triangles that chattered and sparked off Kora’s shield—tore apart the surrounding architecture.
[Peter! Eun!] Kora projected. [He’s got me pinned! I need a diversion!]
[On it.] Peter and Eun replied simultaneously.
They darted toward Blake from both sides, running in long, arcing loops across the dance floor. Blake’s head swung from side to side, snarling furiously as he realized he couldn’t target them while suppressing Kora with his demonic machine-gun. Peter leapt high in the air, cocking his left foot beneath him and extending his right toward Blake’s melon. Eun did the same, only from the other 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.
Peter and Eun hit the ground rolling, their perception decelerated by their zen zap high. Each of Kora’s steps echoed loudly off the floor, punctuated by the steady, atonal thunder of Blake’s hip-cannon. Her mouth yawed open in a protracted roar and her sword cocked back high above her head, catching the light like a gleaming scorpion’s 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 sword protruding up from his clavicles.
“Dude,” Peter muttered, half in awe, half in disgust. “Demon shish-kebab.”
Kora strode forward, yanking her weapon from Blake’s body. Light poured from the wound; the three teens turned away and 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. He regarded his former enemies as if he was seeing them for the first time.
“How did I…what did you…” His face twisted into a complicated mess—horror, anxiety, and a deep, unwanted knowledge that echoed through the eons—but it dropped away in the next instant.
“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 into perfect composure, and his body became unnaturally calm.
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 began spinning backward, whirling left instead of right. Then they slowed and settled into place, noticeably smaller than they’d been a moment ago. Peter, Kora, and Eun took an instinctive 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 glances.
[Holy shit—] Peter began.
[—he erased his memory.] Eun finished. She looked him up and down, astonished and horrified.
The jock, through sheer force of will, had forgotten who he was.