The end of my imprisonment came not with light, but with sound.
I was kneeling in the center of my room as the Hook. I crouched down, legs bending backwards and forelimbs braced against the floor, facing the door. It was an aggressive stance. If anyone came through the door I could spring with surprising speed. No one would, however. I’d been in the Pit for years, and no one had ever come.
I’d lost track of how long it had been. Locked in a pitch black room with my Lure folded up inside.. Anguish, a dull, throbbing anguish. I didn’t remember much, never really saw much use for it, but I recall Prevailer drawing back her fist to knock me out and me deciding to fold into my most durable form.
Idiotic. With no light to release my shadow I couldn’t get the Lure out again. Thanks to an instant’s error I’d spent years folded up. I was like a fat woman who sucked in her stomach before being fitted for her straight jacket.
The first sound, the static whuzz-ing of a microphone system, jarred me from my thoughts. It screeched a little with interference, then the distinctive tapping of someone thumping on their mic resounded throughout the pit.
Eternity had come to an end. My years in the dark would henceforth be divided into the time before this message and the time after. I listened hungrily. Whatever was said would be the only new information that I’d been given in years.
“Listen up,” the voice said.
My Hook lacks the mechanisms that human bodies use to register fear. It has no blood to pound in its veins, no hair to stand on end and no voice to make audible a betraying squeak.
Nonetheless, as Her voice filled the Pit my first movement in years was to cower reflexively, dropping to my face and shuddering like a beaten dog. I didn’t recall much of our fight, only that I’d been utterly outclassed and thoroughly bested.
“I need someone on the outside.”
I listened with every iota of my Hook’s body. I tilted the triangular head towards where the PA system’s output must be. I’d long ago given up on escape. Parole, however, was apparently in the cards.
“But…. just one someone.”
“Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to push all the buttons up here that say “Open”, so y’all should be able to get at one another. Then I’m going to go watch some movies, take a nap, fuck someone, whatever. I’ll be awhile.”
I didn’t make a move to express my elation at the idea of the doors opening up. Even if I ended up killed, it would be better than this lightless hell.
“Then I’m going to come back. If there’s just one Ultra, you are my gal. If there are still more than one of you, I’m going to kill you until there’s just one. If you’ve all managed to die, I guess I’ll let the daggers go.”
There were daggers in here? Why on earth would She store unaltered humans down here with us? It was convenient, at least.
“Here that people? Kill all 6 Ultras and you get to go home to your family, or if I wrecked your home you get to go somewhere else. I don’t give a shit.”
“There are some guns around, I think. Those might help. I think that Knight’s stuff is laying around here too somewhere. I-”
Whatever she said next was drowned out by the churning, clanging clamor of the facilities doors sliding open. She must have pushed the buttons while she was still talking. It was a hellacious din, a squealing cacophony as iron vault doors which hadn’t seen regular maintenance were wrenched forcefully open by unseen engines of unimaginable power.
I was on my feet in a moment, moving the Hook forward towards the door I’d been crouched before. My form didn’t get stiff. The dust of years came off in choking clouds, but my Hook had no need to draw a breath. I was through the door before it completely opened, into the room beyond. Into the light.
It was an unremarkable room. Stone walls, a table and chairs, two doors. All of this was irrelevant. The only thing that mattered to me was that it had light. Strips of softly glowing glass snaked into along the walls from the corridor beyond, casting a sickly red emergency glow across the room’s surface.
I couldn’t have possibly cared less about the hue of the light. Blood red was fine. Anything would be fine. So long as it cast a shadow. My shadow oozed out from beneath my Hook as the light fell across it, and the Lure burst from its surface with a gasp of relief.
I like to imagine that my human body had once looked something like my Lure. It isn’t likely though. The Lure is constantly in flux, gradually changing to better depict whatever I need it to. The core of it was based off of a picture I’d seen in a magazine. Some old world actress or other. I stood and regarded myself.
I was one being with two forms. My Hook was a beast of nightmare, a sort of bipedal mantis slasher devil monster. It was covered in armored hide, its joints bent backward and its limbs ended in sharp protrusions. A fang filled mouth was the only feature visible on its thumb head. A long, thrashing tail ended in a clubbing spike, and on its back was the suggestion of monstrous wings.
I couldn’t actually fly, of course. I had just thought the wings looked cool the last time I’d reshaped it.
My shadow stretched from my Hook to my Lure, brought forth by light hitting either form but utterly defying the physics of how shadows were supposed to work. I could sink either of my forms into my shadow, then retract the shadow entirely into the other. Doing so would enhance the abilities of the form that I left out, but rob of me of the capabilities of the other. In addition there was the possibility of being stuck somewhere lightless, unable to get my other form out. That would never happen again, I vowed to myself.
The Lure was slight, cute, almost pixie like. Not the glamour girl who the main actor would pine after at the start of the movie. More like the approachable best friend he’d end up with at the conclusion of the film. I gave a well remembered and carefully rehearsed smile at the thought.
Another sound jolted me from my momentary reverie. Footsteps rattled from the outside, a body of people approaching the room.
I acted quickly. The Lure dropped to the ground and lay still, even as the Hook went and stood over by the wall behind where the door would open. Despite my powers shadow theme I didn’t really have any way to hide my Hook aside from retracting it, and that was too dangerous to do at the moment. While I had both forms out they would heal any wounds that they didn’t share. Both were, in some way, shadows of the other, and they restored each other. Tuck one away, however, and I was more fragile, if stronger. It wasn’t worth the tradeoff with no knowledge of what I’d be facing.
The door slammed open and bright light poured in. Whoever was out there had flashlights. Through my Lure’s eyes, open and staring as it lay on the ground, I could see them. Two or three humans with long guns and flashlights, playing their beams over every inch of the room.
They didn’t say anything, but quickly their lights came to focus on the Lure. It was understandable. A woman crumpled on the floor of a barren antechamber, with an open door behind her, is not a whole story. It needs more to make it complete. It needs a villain.
I was startled when they shot me.
The Lure jerked as the bullets slammed home, but only because of the impacts. I didn’t really have reflexes, or much in the way of tactile senses. I gave a short, choked shriek and spasmed once before letting the Lure fall still. Hopefully they bought it. Hopefully their light wasn’t good enough to see that despite being shot I wasn’t bleeding, and the bullet holes were gradually filling back in.
My hopes were answered as they moved into the room. Astonishingly, none of them looked to the left or right as they stepped into the door. Two of them had their guns, and the lights that were attached to them, pointed at the open door to the cell I’d been locked up in. The last had his fixed on my Lure.
No reason to be flashy. The Hook fell into step behind them and slammed a serrated forelimb into one of their backs. With Ultra strength one propelling it the bony protrusion exploded through his chest as though it had been fired from a cannon. I still had it.
The other two spun around at the noise of impact, faces going blank with terror. The Hook moved against them.
The one in front actually got a shot off before I Hooked him. His gun made a thunderous roar as it fired, I was already sweeping it aside with the first guy’s body. An instant later the Hook’s tail slammed into him with brutal force.
The last of them bolted for the cell, vanishing swiftly into the darkness where I’d been imprisoned for so long.
I was momentarily tempted to simply close the door on him, but this was not the time or place for drama. The Lure sat up and began to remove the dead human’s clothing while the Hook chased him into the darkness.
I have some trouble doing two things at the same time, despite having two bodies. Still, in a matter of moments I’d dressed my Lure in some of their blood spattered garments and my Hook had finished with the last of the humans.
I took a moment to consider whether or not it was wise to move out into the larger area of the prison. My initial foray out of my cell had been driven by my inability to stand being folded up an instant longer, but I was thinking clearly now.
If I moved out I’d run into more enemies. If I just sat here they’d run into each other. If Prevailer was going to be gone a few hours then the logical play was to bide my time, sit and wait until there was just one foe left.
I turned it over in my mind. I could just return to my previous ambush position. Leave my Lure among the bodies in the anteroom and set the Hook beside the door. If anyone came along I’d get the drop on them. But what if no one came along?
From what She said this was a fight with a time limit. If I hunkered down, there was always the possibility that someone else was doing likewise. We’d both probably survive the roaming packs of humans. She would kill one of us.
My ruminations were cut short by the sound of more approaching footfalls. Another group, larger than the first.
I decided that they were probably humans. The terms of this contest meant that daggers would have an incentive to work together, but never with an Ultra. Therefore more than one enemy meant humans. The thought sparked an idea.
Wincing, I folded up the Hook. It sank swiftly into my shadow, until it was gone as though it had never existed. The Lure picked up one of the discarded guns and sank, shuddering, to the ground by the bodies.
“Terry!” I shrieked. “Please get up!”
Once again, the door crowded with faces. Once again, light poured into the room, this time from some kind of hand held lantern, less directional than the tactical flashlights the earlier group had been carrying.
This time my disguise was much better, however. My Lure was clearly wearing the same prison gear as the others, and where it was damaged I’d smeared their blood on it to disguise my lack of it. My face was streaked with tears and I was frantically giving CPR to the guy whose chest my Hook had caved in.
I tensed for the bullets. With the Hook folded up inside me I ought to survive them, but there was no guarantee. After an instant, though, I heard approaching footsteps, and looked wildly around.
“Hey” said one of them, soothingly. He talked like you’d address a skittish dog. “What’s going on here?”
“YOU DON”T TOUCH HIM!” I yelled, trying ineffectually to shoo them back away from ‘Terry’s’ body. “Watch out before it comes back!”
That got their attention.
“Before what comes back?” asked the guy who had talked earlier. I named him ‘Leader’ in my mind. “What did this?”
“I shot it.” I said, giving a shell shocked stare. “It came out of that cell, and Terry and the rest were too close.”
One of the women in this group actually knelt down beside me, putting her hands on the Lure’s shoulders.
“Listen, you are safe now. You are with us. We just need to know what did this.”
As she talked her shadow lay across mine. I unfolded the Hook, just a bit, but not into the world. I set it into her shadow as she spoke, and gained access to her mind.
I couldn’t read thoughts, exactly. I got emotions, priorities, stuff like that. She wasn’t actually all that concerned about the Lure. I could tell that she was actually terrified for herself. She was just putting up a strong front to keep herself from cracking.
I gave a shuddering sob and collapsed down before them, weeping inconsolably. Even as I did so I was inserting a new objective into the woman. I strengthened the part of her that cared for weak things. I tried to make it less a lie that she told herself, and more a core part of her identity. After an instant’s effort I withdrew the Hook. More shadows were falling across me.
By the time I’d gasped out my story, a simple tale of a monster bursting forth from a cell and rushing past me and the rest of my group and into the hall, I’d Lured every one of them. I strengthened whatever part of their identity was most useful to me, whatever made them most charitably disposed towards the helpless woman that they’d come across.
Several of them were suddenly determined that every one of them would survive. These martyrs would die to save the rest. Some of them were feeling the part of them that made them want to aid the helpless with renewed fervor. They helped carry the limping Lure along. A few of the gentlemen were noticing how attractive the Lure was, and how her gaze seemed to linger on them as we departed. It always amazed me how strongly humans were driven to notice reproductive cues.
One and all, however, they felt that their group had gained a new member. The parts of them which might be suspicious had fallen silent. Their caution and good sense had eroded away.
I let my pawns lead me out into the darkness of the broader prison. I had five Ultras to kill, but at least now I wouldn’t be doing it alone.