“Kid, you’re a smart one,” the man spoke, his face hidden in shadow, “You knew to eliminate my senses of sight, hearing, and to an extent smell, but you forgot touch. Every move you made I felt. I’ve killed much more dangerous aberrations before, but you’ve survived longer than any other. I’m impressed. As a favour, any final words?” He loosened his grip on the youth’s neck.
“We’re Jinn…” Aleksei spat.
“Jinn! You, me, the dark one, we’re Jinn.”
Shaking the boy, the man shouted into his face, “You’re comparing us?! Do you want to see how we are nothing alike?” he stepped back, letting light shine down on his face.
Aleksei gasped in shock. He never once had a chance to see the man’s features whilst dodging office furniture. Instead of skin, the man had dark scales with faint chevron pattern and short, bony protrusions on his brows, cheeks, jawline and crown. His face was strangely elongated, his eyes were like those of an adder and the corners of his mouth ran to almost where his earlobes would have been but where instead he just had disk shaped scales which protruded forwards with dark holes in the middle.
“I am no Jinn! No aberration!” he spat out, anger filling his voice, “I’m Nebuchadnezzar3, the result of the most advanced genetic science! As a favour to the best to challenge me, I’ll ensure your sister can recognise you.” He dropped Aleksei and raised his fist.
Aleksei, as he dangled in the air, had decided what he wanted his final thought to be. Ya tibya l’ublyu, Mashka. He never saw when the fist started moving, but the next thing he felt was a blast of wind strike his face.
The massive, scaled fist was stopped, caught by a slender, clawed hand. The giant looked beside him at the woman who glared fiercely at him with golden eyes.
“Beautiful and quiet,” he muttered in admiration.
“Ugly and stupid,” she growled back.
“You flatter me b--,” he was silenced when she turned, leveraging herself at the back of his knee and judo threw him by his arm over her.
Nebuchadnezzar3, though disconcerted by the strength of such tiny a woman, did not neglect landing on both feet while he grabbed hold of her arm. With a simple jerk he threw her across the room where she collided into the shelves.
Immediately she rose, with a loud crack her shoulder put itself back into its socket and she growled out, “Aleksei, leave or I might kill you!”
Her brother could tell this was no longer his Mashka, and she was dead serious. He began his cautious retreat.
“You’re cocky, I like it. You can know me as Nezzar until I kill you. Live a while, please?”
She did not answer, instead she charged in an erratic pattern at inhuman speed.
Nezzar chuckled and vanished, sending shelves and cabinets scattering like chaff. The two were only visible again when his fist struck her crossed arms. The raw force of the blow sent her back as she attempted the cushion the blow. Though she tried to slow herself down, she still struck the other side of the room with enough speed to crack the dry wall. Not even having a chance to move, he peeled her from the wall by her leg, spun her around like a whip, and slammed her into the floor.
She yowled monstrously but was silenced by the next strike. For just a brief time Mashka was once again in control. She could feel her broken ribs scratching the inside of her chest, and the sensation of her heart fluttering weakly. She heard her brother scream her name, but knew it was not going to rouse her from the engulfing silence. The world, was slipping away as she came to rest on the floor. Beautiful stars surrounded her.
“What possessed you to follow us to London?!” Evan demanded.
His son shrugged, “Just wanted in on whatever you were doing. It was not too hard to find you. I just installed a gps app on your burner phone when you weren’t looking.”
“This is not a game Jack! You could be getting into real danger!”
Jack grabbed Evan’s shirt and tugged him closer. “Hey, Dad, I’m a skilled medic, you could need me. If a tiny Russian boy and his cute sister can handle this, then I sure can.”
“They can’t handle anything! Even I am in over my head! Just turn around and forget anything happened.”
“Not a chance! The day you come to Edinburgh, and we have a major bank heist, a car-bombing, and a multi-person shootout at the port. I want to know what’s going on, and I want to help.”
Evan looked about anxiously, trying to think of a way to dissuade him.
“This is my choice, let me help my dad!”
Silence passed long between them as they walked together. At last Evan stopped and turned to his son. “Jack… I nev--,”
His voice was cut off by a deafening rumble. He looked down the street at the condemned office building which the Association had selected as temporary headquarters. A huge plume of dust was rolling out of the alley.
“You still want to help?” Evan asked before running towards wreckage.
Mashka’s eyes fluttered closed. When she opened them she gasped for breath, what felt like Nezzar’s grip still touched her throat. However the giant human experiment was nowhere to be seen. Instead she found herself lying flat on her back looking up into pitch darkness. She shook herself and sat up, but still she felt the suppressing weight against her chest and throat. The ground beneath her was as smooth as glass and dark as obsidian. She could just barely recognise that she was casting a shadow so she looked behind her too find the light source.
Her breath caught in her throat. Suspended over the featureless horizon was a sideways crescent moon, its twin arms were almost a full circle around its shadowed surface and where their points would have met, a star like object shown brilliantly. The bizarre moon reflected itself on the glass surface of the foreign world, producing an elliptical duplicate. Her hair fell in front of her eyes and she noticed her formerly blond hair, was once again its natural dark brown colour.
'Where am I?' she wondered, as she brushed the stray locks back.
“Where are you?” A grainy, masculine voice echoed her thoughts.
Mashka spun around, still labouring to breathe under the immense pressure. “Who’s there?!” her eyes darted at the darkness but saw nothing beside the featureless surface and sky. No movement, not even the slightest breeze touched her. 'Aleksei told me he had a place inside him. Is this mine?'
“Mine!?! You think you have any way to claim this world as “mine!?!””
“What is this place then!?” Mashka demanded.
Goosebumps rose on her arms as she shivered. Wherever this was, it felt barely five degrees Celsius and there was no moisture in the air, as if she was in a tomb.
'Don't be scared,' she reminded herself.
“Why? Your judgement has not even started.”
Something darker than even the obsidian surface appeared, marring the moon’s reflection like ink. The substance began to creep towards Mashka.
She spun on her heel and ran. After several strides she looked behind her to see that the black cloud under the glass was gaining on her. In the centre of the mass, a bloodshot eye with a glowing yellow iris and needle like pupil opened and stared at her.
Forcing out the loudest scream she could muster, Mashka cried out. “Let me out of here!!!”
The eye widened gleefully at her terror, then shut. The black substance sank down, returning the monotony of the surreal world.
Panting, Mashka looked anywhere for a possible escape and attempted to rationalise her situation. 'How do I get back? I must be dreaming… or dying?'
“Closer to the former…” the harsh masculine voice replied in her head.
Mashka turned to face the source of the words.
“…but you will wish it was the latter!”
Before her eyes stood a robust, man-shaped form, its void colour causing it to barely contrast against the obsidian ground and inky sky. From around the left side of its head appeared a single yellow eye and from the right side of the face crawled a mouth with four tusk-like fangs. Both organs seemed to float on the surface of the rippling, muscular silhouette.
The black beast’s mouth and eye slid on the surface of its motionless head, giving the illusion of a cockeyed, curious stare. “Are you screaming? Because I can’t hear--.” The silhouette shifted and vanished.
Mashka’s breath hitched as she lost sight of the terrifying spectre.
The voice finished its sentence behind her “--you didn’t give me any EARS!!!”
She turned her head just in time to see the beast’s large, black hand grab hold of the side of her face. The air whistled in her ears as she was torn down and slammed temple first into the glass floor. Black dust plumed and swirled, sparkling like tiny sequins in the moonlight as cracks in the obsidian radiated out ten metres from the impact.
As the shimmering dust dissipated, the black form bent down to look at his victim’s face, which was half buried into the ground, the one visible eye staring sightlessly ahead, reflecting the grinning moon.
“Wake up!” the thing called.
The cloud behind Mashka’s eye vanished and she gasped in surprise and confusion, all pain was gone.
“That’s the first time I’ve killed you.”
Her eye gaped wide as she realised that half of her face was embedded into the ground. She sat up and felt the side of her face, shocked it had not been obliterated.
“Amusing, isn’t it?” the black being growled through his tusk-like fangs. “Here no matter how much pain you go through, it’s all erased, not at all like what you put me through in the Outworld."
Out of the corner of her eye, Mashka could make out his dark first move towards her. With speed born of desperation she rolled, feeling the air whistle by her ear. She prepared to stand, hoping to face her opponent but the ground rose and catapulted her through the air. Instantly her reflexes kicked in and she landed on her feet but skid as if she had landed on ice due to the smooth obsidian. When she brought herself to a halt she looked up at where she had come from. A gargantuan shard of the volcanic glass rose twenty metres into the starless sky, mirrored by another one opposite, a testament to the force and hatred in the black creature’s blow.
She noticed the beast appear on top of the shard. He looked at her once then sped down its surface to the ground. Mashka blinked, revealing blue irises sliced down the middle by wide cat pupils. Her eyes shifted rapidly following the monster’s zigzagging movement. As he approached, her canines and fingernails lengthened.
Bracing herself, Mashka was as ready as she could be for the onslaught until her enemy almost disappeared. She had just barely discerned the direction of his movement and twisted to her left, bringing her arms around to deflect his kick to her side. She moved just in time, catching the blow with her arms and transferring the energy of it through her body, skidding back several metres on the glass, but she held her balance.
The creature stood still, its eye and mouth cocked sideways.
Mashka felt a shudder down her spine. 'God, let me out of here!'
“Do you honestly think you would allow God to see this part of your heart?”
“My…” she caught herself, remembering he could not hear her. 'My heart?!'
“Where else could someplace so bizarre exist?” the creature spat out.
That means… you must be a repha!
The thing laughed, like a gurgle in his throat. “Your brother talks too much. He’s weak, dream faced, and apathetic. He will never become anything.”
'Don’t talk about my brother!'
“These are not my words… no, they are yours!”
'I never said those things!'
“Of course you didn’t, you stored them here and gave them to me. ‘Mother was too weak of a woman to stop loving her husband, even after he left. Her love killed her in the end.’ ‘Vladimir’s resolve is at least less worthless than his brother.’ I could go on, I hear all your thoughts!”
Mashka’s eyes watered. 'Stop… stop it, I never meant that.'
“Fool, the only things you ever mean you give to me. I am the only one to hear your most private thoughts, and you loath me despite that. I am just a monster to you, and yet, you were the one to create me.”
Mashka swallowed hard as she shuddered in guilt and realisation.
“Now, Mashka, finally it is time, for me to take what has been mine all along, so I can be the god of your mind and body!”