Illumination 5.7: Eavesdrops

“Watch out for the tail!” Seth said, and Natalie dodged as the cambion’s tail split into seven long, whipping strands. They’d caught the cambion crossing between two buildings of the five-building complex Jehane had led them to. It had the head of a fox or a wolf, but it not only walked in two legs but wore a poorly fitting, bloodsoaked business suit.

They weren’t supposed to engage with anything until they got the signal from Hatherly to move on the Echthroi, but the human clothing had decided Natalie. “Now or later, it’s going down. Why not now?”

The monster looked at them as they dropped down beside it, then cringed and said, “No…” It had human eyes, and for a moment Natalie wondered if it was a cambion at all. Maybe something horrible had been done to a human.

A moment was all it needed to attack. But Seth didn’t share Natalie’s compassion and when it lunged at her, he’d been ready.

The tail splitting into seven whirling orange deathwhips helped. It was more dangerous, of course, but it was also easier to fight, because it no longer seemed as human. And yet, when she stood over the melting corpse, she felt sad. Once upon a time, all it had taken for an enemy to feel too human to fight was a voice.

Seth kicked the clothes. “Grandmother, what big eyes you have.”

“Do you think there’s any chance it found the clothes in a locker?”

“What’s the point in thinking about it? Come on, let’s get back to our station or we’ll miss Hatherly’s whistle.”

Natalie’s cellphone rang. The sound was shockingly loud in the silent morning, and she fumbled to answer it. At first, she thought there was nobody on the other end. Then there was a dull thud, followed by an exhalation, and distant voices.

“I’m pretty sure any phone calls right now are going to be analyzed by the military,” said Seth. “Who is it?”

“Hush!” commanded Natalie. “I hear Jehane and Hatherly talking…” Her eyes widened. “Oh god, it’s him, Seth. He’s talking about making cambions.”

Seth’s eyebrows went up. “Who, Hatherly?”

She nodded, pressing the phone harder to her ear, trying to make out details. The number was Laurel’s, and she wasn’t standing right next to Hatherly or Jehane.

“Let’s go find him and see.” Seth led the way over to the building Jehane had pinpointed. Along the way, they passed Kotone and Rose, stationed in the shadow of a storage shed. Seth waved them over and in a low voice, told them what Natalie thought was going on. “He’s trying to convince Jehane to join him. Aya’s there,” Natalie added.

The other team nodded, falling into step beside them for a few moments before splitting off to go down a side path. A moment later, Seth pulled Natalie into some bushes. A side door into the building opened, and Malachi emerged, followed by four cambions. One of them had eight legs, and tentacles securing some packages to its back. The other one seemed to be part machine. Horns curved back from an ox-like head to merge into a tangle of tubing and wires that connected several glowing modules emerging from the creature’s back.

“That looks interesting,” muttered Seth, as Malachi strode away. They crept on, Natalie listening as Laurel shouted, “Run!” She could hear her both over the phone and in the real world. She tensed. If they could get away—

But no.

At the edge of the corner, the Tanist and Kwan waited with Kotone and Rose. Rose was gesturing furiously, but the Tanist shook her head and tapped her ear. “They’re fine,” she mouthed. “We listen.” She looked like she was floating in the calm on the far side of a raging fury.

Kwan whispered, his voice more shape than noise, “Too many cambions over there. I don’t know how we can take them all. I counted at least ten while getting into position.” He pointed in various directions, including the sky, where a large red bird circled.

You’d look for me if I vanished, right, Natalie?


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