B1 — 17. Bringer of Misfortune - The Oscillation (2024)

Maria’s fingers curled into a fist, silver eyes shifting between the two Ellis brothers. All of the older members of the block knew what would happen if they resisted, and the younger ones were ready to jump on her signal.

It only took Maria a few questions to confirm what this was about, though. She wanted to do what was natural to her, cuss out and resist anyone trying to intimidate her, but these weren’t some low-life street thugs.

She brushed off their crude comments, subtly telling Carmen to get her brother out of Miami since things were likely going to pop off from the brothers’ casual statements. Maria knew that if their small block was to survive this, she had to comply, and if that was the price of keeping those she cared for safe, she didn’t have a choice.

The Escarlata Syndicate was making a move to take over all the gangs in the area. Whatever they were planning, it was big, and they were snatching up anyone who could bolster their ranks. They teleported in to make it perfectly clear that they could get to anyone. This was a courtesy call; the brothers could come in force. If she didn’t come willingly, she was the enemy, and her entire block would suffer that decision.

Maria wasn’t game for punching Daran as he came closer to pull her in, despite the placement of his arm against the side of her breast. It clearly wasn’t unconscious as he put pressure against it to steer her around. Marcus placed his hand on his brother’s shoulder, and in a swirl of vertigo, the world changed.

Daran kept her close and stable, and another wave of nausea hit her as they made three more jumps in quick succession. Appearing inside some restaurant, Maria hissed as Daran let go, stumbling to a table and holding it for support as her head spun.

“The hell was that?” she snarled in Spanish, stomach squeezing and blinking to reorient herself.

“No, I feel ya, Curves,” Marcus groaned, gagging for a second and rubbing his head. “Dammit, Bro, why did ya do it so—so fast?! Ya know, I hate it when you flash jump—I need to vomit! sh*t—”

He stumbled into what appeared to be a restaurant bathroom. Maria caught sight of several frightened men and women sitting in a corner with two heavily armed men nearby. She recognized them from one of the local gangs. They hadn’t been affiliated with the Syndicate; obviously, things had changed in the last few days.

Daran smirked while dropping into the chair, saluting the chuckling men. “Wanted to see if it affected you like Marcus. Y’all got weak stomachs. Hey, Timmy, toss me the radio.”

“When we getting the goods, huh, Boss?” the man on the left asked, complying with the order.

Daran caught it and gestured for Maria to sit down. “We’ll be here for the next hour, so sit and chill, chica. As for the tank and military goods, I’m making a run tonight to snatch some of the stuff. Just keep good track of the hostages, boys. We got time.”

Maria dropped down into a chair, doing her best not to look perturbed or bothered by the crying kids. The elderly folk attempted to keep them calm so as not to annoy the gangsters, not that it was doing much good.

She didn’t pity the incorporated gangs. In this world, weakness was death. Maria had heard a few things about what was happening in South Beach but wasn’t prepared for what she learned the hour it took the man to recharge.

Daran’s teleportation wasn’t limitless, and he could only go a little over two kilometers in total before he had to wait for his ability to charge. From what she understood, it came in charges, and the sooner he used them, the sooner they’d return.

The cartel had co-opted a few gangs into their ranks through various means, and they were expanding. With all the extra manpower and Daran’s teleportation to get them to key areas, they’d set up their own territory, killing all the police in the area and confiscating their weapons; it drew the government’s attention, which put Maria on edge.

Terrell had to be insane if he was now picking a fight with the US military, yet a few of the more chatty gangsters on their second jump talked about some military team that got sent in to deal with Terrell, only to be repelled. The hostages were there to stop them from using more excessive force, and the man had obtained some mysterious high-value cartel-affiliated assets as big hitters.

Somehow, they could grant even normal humans some form of elemental powers for a short time, but only the higher ranks got the privilege. Terrell was building an empire for himself after gaining powers.

How he and his sons obtained abilities didn’t sit right with Maria. Her original theory had been that some government experiment went wrong. Although, after learning it hit the entire planet, she didn’t know what to think. What she did know was that it wasn’t random. It was too specific on certain families, including how they changed in line with their interests or desires.

Marcus and Daran were fairly tight-lipped about her purpose in all of this. It wasn’t hard to see, though. She knew their father had some kind of eye cancer, and if that was all he wanted her for, then that was all fine and good. Unfortunately, from what she saw, he wouldn’t let a healer like her go.

Maria felt sick when Daran brought them to an underground nightclub. Three dozen kindergarteners sat on chairs in the corner, eyes glazed over and radiating a purple light; if that wasn’t enough, the dried drool running down their chins told her they were being controlled.

Terrell’s large lips peeled back, looking at her with clouded white eyes as if he could see her. “I’ve been expecting ya, kid. Even though The Oscillation made ya white, ya can’t deny your ass got finer by it, and, heh, if I’m saying that, ya know it’s true. Nice work, boys.”

Maria’s nose twisted as she shrugged off Daran’s arm. He laughed and held up his hands in a way that said he didn’t want any smoke as Marcus rolled around his neck and coped with the teleportation sickness.

“Yo, Dad, so what’s the play? I got time to chill with some hoes?”

“Language, boy,” Terrell grunted, nudging his head toward her. Maria had her arms crossed, stepping away to put some distance between them. “We got a fine woman here, and Maria works hard for her block. So, show the lady some respect.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Marcus grumbled, going to the bar to pour himself a drink.

Daran gave her a helpless shrug—like he was any better—pointing to the bottles on the wall. “Want somethin’, Queenie?”

“If I did, I’d get it my damn self,” she stated, switching back to the English her captors were using, all the time keeping her focus on their father.

“Damn cold, but okay. sh*t, just tryin’ ta be nice; no need to cut my balls off.”

Given what acts she’d heard the man commit, Maria wouldn’t mind the prospect, but she kept her mouth shut in that regard; these dudes were riding their old man’s coattails anyway.

“No disrespect, Jefe, but I got my own sh*t to handle. Tell me what ya need, so I can be on my own business; my pandilla be waitin’, ya know? I ain’t be about this… fancy club sh*t,” she grunted, nudging her head to the bar where his sons were making themselves comfortable. “I’m a backyard barbecue with the crew kind of gal. Ya hear?”

Terrell rubbed his chin, looking off to the side with a thoughtful look in his dark eyes. “I hear ya, Maria. Don’t get your thong twisted.”

“Ain’t never worn one, so I wouldn’t know,” she shot back.

“Haha! Cheeky. I do like the mouth on Little Havana’s young cholas. Ugh. I got some urgent business, though. Bad timing, boys.”

Marcus shook his mixer, preparing some fancy co*cktail. “You said to bring her quick; we brought her as quick as we could—oh, sh*t! Relica, and who’s the prison MILF?”

Maria shifted her weight to look at the somewhat large dance space entrance as two women walked through. Both had black hair, yet one had a motherly look and wore an orange prison jumpsuit, while the other was an olive-skinned seductress, practically sculpted to perfection in her blue dress that matched her eyes.

An impish tilt came to Relica’s mouth. “You should really be more careful how you use your tongue when addressing women… Someone might snatch it out.”

Marcus’ eyes widened, hands going to his throat as the woman casually brought two fingers to her thumb and then flicked her wrist. The man tried to speak, yet no words were heard. His brother held up his hands in a way that said he wouldn’t utter a word, continuing to make his own drink as Marcus recovered, now utterly mute.

Terrell sighed, gesturing for Maria to sit off to the side. She didn’t need to think twice after seeing the influential man not demand her to stop; this was probably one of the Syndicate’s high-value assets and a real killer.

“We can’t have any devices here due to some hacker.”

“Mine are spelled, sooo no leaks on my end!” the dressed-up woman sang.

“Right… What do we owe the pleasure of you returning to Miami, Relica? I thought your business was done after setting up our takeover operation. I’m guessing El Padrino sent you back?”

“Naughty-naughty, Terrell. You know I cannot divulge my purposes,” Relica giggled, making the man shift uncomfortably as she smoothly sat before him; the man was clearly intimidated. Someone bigger was always pulling the strings, and it appeared even Terrell was only following orders. “Don’t let a tiny amount of power go to that big head of yours.”

“Ahem. No big head here, ladies. Yeah, I’m at your disposal. What do you need?”

“Wonderful!” she said, hands going into a praying position before gesturing to the agitated woman beside her. “All you need to know is that Adele here is a very influential individual that has been the Syndicate’s largest financial contributor. Whatever she needs, you will provide, and she wanted to meet you. So, here we are!”

Maria’s focus shifted to the woman with everyone else.

Adele’s disapproving stare went from him to the children. “Something is… wrong. My daughter should have been here already; these men are supposed to be dead. I should have been broken out of the facility by Scarlet yesterday. There is a variant, and I need to know what it is.”

“What?” Terrell asked, looking at Relica as if the woman was insane. “What are you talking about—was there a request somewhere in there? I’m confused.”

Relica gave the frustrated woman a cheery shrug, ignoring the man’s inquiry. “If you are concerned for your daughter, why not have Terrell spy her out? As I understand it, his blind eyes can actually scry things from quite a ways away, which is how his son teleports to these specific locations. Would you like him to collect her?”

Adele rubbed her chin with a troubled look directed at Marcus and Daran, who was now entirely focused on the pair; the younger brother still couldn’t utter a word after Relica’s spell on him.

“She would simply kill them before they fully materialized… Scarlet should be seeking me out to make sense of everything, so… where is she?”

“Hold up.” Terrell sat straighter, breathing out a long sigh. “Your daughter’s name is Scarlet—the timid vampire chick running around with the lunar hare Mythickin? I’ve been keeping tabs on them after hearing about the Crystal event at the college. They’re making plans to take us out with some hacker Myth right now… What’s going on, Relica?”

“I don’t know!” Relica chirped. “It’s exciting, though! In the years I’ve worked with the Scarlet Hand, I’ve never known you to be wrong in your predictions, Adele. What a horrific turn of events! Oh, did you realize something? I’m very interested now.”

Maria’s hands tightened under her bust, trying to sink into the corner of the room as Adele’s vision became distant after Terrell’s words.

“Lunar hare Mythickin… No, it’s impossible—there shouldn’t be a lunar hare Mythickin—she died ten years ago. You were in charge of that, Relica!”

A note of recognition rumbled in Relica’s throat, vision narrowing while looking off to the side and making Maria swallow. These people were insane; she didn’t want to be here listening to past hits and conspiracies.

“Oooh! I remember you having me orchestrate a little accident ten years ago in Miami, an Asian family, if I recall correctly. Let’s see…”

“You told me they were dead—the mother, sister-in-law, and their daughters! If Rachel is still alive… No. sh*t… Without a doubt, she would be the anomaly. Her very existence will ruin everything! Everything I did was necessary for the future, but now—now, I don’t know!”

Adele bit her lower lip, beginning to pace and making Maria nervous she might turn that anger on them; her instincts told her this woman could likely erase all of them.

Relica pulled out her phone to scan the web. “Let’s not jump to conclusions; I confirmed they were dead. I remember it like yesterday:

“I coerced a rather pathetic father into making it look like a drunk driving accident by using his son’s heroin addiction as collateral. Hehe. He couldn’t let it ruin his son’s promising future as a judge, and when confronted, you should have seen the tender moment they shared; he was going to get better. He died a year after his father of an overdose. I had a hand in that, as well, but it’s so fun to see what normal people will do to protect the secrets of their family.”

Her fingers paused in their swipes and clicks. “Yes! See, it is on the police rep… Wait, there was a correction. Well, huh… Damn. Isn’t that unlucky? Initially, it was reported that all of them had died. That’s a shame.”

“A shame?” Adele snarled, brown eyes alight with fire, making the terrorist’s lips pull in. “Everything I have planned—all of it—none of the sacrifices mean anything if Rachel is alive! You!” She pointed at Terrell; the man’s arms were now crossed defensively. “What has Rachel done—every detail matters—every event and person she’s interacted with!”

Terrell pointed at her, making the hair on the back of Maria’s neck stand up. “Maria healed her; apparently, she was on the verge of death before that, fighting some kind of toad people. If your daughter’s the vampire chick, then Rachel’s manipulating her into being friends, as far as I know. She all but admitted it to a shrink. A military big-shot is now in her pocket, too. Look, her parents are here; we snatch them, and it’s easy!”

“Idiot!” Adele hissed, holding her sides as she stopped to glare at the corner of the room. “Rachel’s power isn’t in her strength, speed, or even her intelligence—she’s a Mythickin hare—it’s her misfortune… Her very existence pulls things in that warp the future negatively to her favor.”

Daran forced a chuckle. “Pfft! You can’t be serious. So, she’s like the opposite of a lucky rabbit? Wouldn’t that mean she’s unlucky?”

Adele’s fingernails dug into the side of her jumpsuit, nose flaring with anger.

“Everything was planned down to a T by the Scarlet Apostle. How do you think your father rose to his current position, hmm? I knew who you would become when you were under three years old, boy!

“Now, everything is in jeopardy—every plan and movement from the moment Rachel survived that crash—ten years of potential anomalies from her misfortune working against the reality I tried to forge! The Crystal invasion will be different, Legendkin Quests, the deities in the background, who changed and into what—our knowledge on how to counter them—everything!”

“Let’s not have a stroke, Adele!” Leg folding over the other, Relica sat back with a thoughtful hum in her throat. “Why not test it?”

“It won’t work!”

“Can I try, at least? Please.”

“It’s not going to change anything,” the woman groaned, seemingly almost in tears. “She has my daughter!”

“All the more reason to try! What do you say, Terrell? Do you have faith in your kids to perform a simple snatch-and-grab? I’ll even help!”

Terrell and Daran gave each other unsure glances as the unstable, smiling woman motioned to the teleporter to join her with a finger. She got to her feet and glided to one of the children in the chair, holding up a hand as her eyes flashed violet.

“Well, what are you waiting for, boy? Come. Come.”

Just as Maria had no choice but to join the brothers, the roles were reversed as the man puffed out a heavy breath and went to the grinning terrorist.

“What are you—” His words cut off as she placed a hand on a little boy’s head and Daran’s chest; her dress fluttered as a gentle breeze cycled around her, lilac hues connecting the three.

Relica spoke as if this was just another casual exchange. “Did you know souls have tremendous power, especially the young?”

Maria’s fingers trembled in her lap as she watched the little boy’s body shrivel before her eyes, turning to dust; the remaining light transferred to Daran. He stumbled back when the last rays were absorbed into his chest, gasping and choking as he clutched his breast. Tears and snot ran down his face, looking into the distance at some unseeable horror.

A case of theft: this story is not rightfully on Amazon; if you spot it, report the violation.

“I… I felt—why…”

“Mhm!” she chimed, bending down to pat him on the head like the child she’d just murdered. “The pain and agony the soul went through as I forced it into you. Yes, yes. Terrible, terrible. But look on the bright side! Now, you can teleport dozens of times before the energy provided by the soul is used up. The pain will leave. The Trauma? Mmh. Debatable.”

Maria stood, fists shaking at her side and drawing the others’ attention.

“Ooh. Feeling sad for him—angry? You are a healer, I suppose,” Relica nodded. “What would you do if I forced the same onto you?”

She wanted to charge the woman and beat her senseless, but Maria knew it wouldn’t help; being a leader on her block meant she had to make tough calls and keep a level head. Maria could no longer see this woman as a human. She was a devil from hell. No human could be this twisted. If she made a move, the children would suffer.

Adele was the one to answer, though, vision narrowed dangerously. “I’m not here to see unnecessary suffering, Relica. Everything I do is for a better world—a world that survives—for my daughter’s sake.”

“Haha! I’m only partially joking,” the terrorist mused, holding out two fingers and flicking her wrist to magically force Daran to his feet. “Now that we have our carrier pigeon… Go fetch!”

“It won’t work,” Adele repeated, scratching her head and looking inward. “You have to create an event so impossible to overcome that even her misfortune-warping won’t be able to save her from it. It’s why I wanted you to kill her before she fully unlocked her abilities.”

“Obviously, if I failed, she had the misfortune, or whatever, working in her favor before The Oscillation even occurred, dear,” Relica stated, retaking a seat and waving for Daran to get moving. “Which… has drawn my attention.”

He stumbled to the counter before his father nodded, the still muted man clearly wanting to shoot the devilish woman; they vanished in a haze of hues, the color far stronger now.

“She said it won’t work, Relica,” Terrell muttered, sweat gathering on his forehead. “Rachel is talking like she already knows my boys are coming!”

The seductive woman snickered. “Humor me.”

A numbing silence took them as they waited, Terrell’s face going white while spying on his son’s mission. She didn’t like this side of gangster life and typically only worked with the gangs that held a specific standard. People had to do messed up sh*t to survive, and she understood that, but this, this wasn’t that—this was just the spawn of hell incarnate, tormenting people for amusem*nt.

Maria edged over to the children. Radiant horn flaring to life, her heart hurt as she examined their condition. Relica hadn’t only placed them in some hypnotic state; from what her purifying instincts and abilities told her, they were trapped in a nightmare, running from their worst fears.

Unable to restrain herself at this point, her pale light bathed the children, dispelling the visions they saw; at the very least, she could rescue them from the terrifying nightmares so their minds could slip into more positive dreams.

Relica lifted an eyebrow. “Quite the potent purifying feats you have. What was her name, Terrell?”

“Maria, bitch,” she responded, introducing herself while staring the fiend down and turning to stand between her and the children. “Next time you want to hurt them with your bullsh*t, use me instead. Comprende? I ain’t watchin’ that sh*t again.”

“Bold! I like her, Adele,” Relica laughed, eyeing her up and down. “You wanted her to get rid of that uveal melanoma you’ve got, Terrell, right? No, someone else wanted her. That’s right. Oh! Something happening to your boys? My, my, what did Rachel do?”

Terrell’s face went white, rising to his feet. “Hey—Maria!”

A flash of color brought the brothers to their father’s feet; Marcus was gasping for air, seemingly unable to breathe as blood leaked from his mouth, eyes, nose, and ears, chest caved in. Daran’s left arm was half torn out of its socket.

“H-He just—the h-hare girl—”

“Heal him, dammit!”

Maria’s light intensified, face blanching at discovering the damage done to the younger brother. “The hell? He’s bleeding internally everywhere! I-It’s like his whole body was beaten by a hammer!”

She hissed as she tried to restore the tissue. Her Solar Pool went from full to twenty percent just to stabilize him; ten more was used to fix most of Daran’s shredded meniscus and powdered bone. If it were daylight, it wouldn’t have been an issue, but her healing factor took a massive hit outside of the sun and during the night.

Sweat soaked her shirt front as she finished. Relica sat nearby, talking to Adele and ignoring the father as Terrell freaked out, questioning Maria on the state of his boys.

“Huh. You were right, Adele. Not even empowering him to zip in and snatch her parents worked.”

Adele rubbed her temple. “You’ve only made things worse and made a worthless sacrifice. Now Rachel sees you as a threat and target. But you wanted that, didn’t you?”

Maria’s chest hurt as her life force was drained yet again; Rachel had taken enough of it the previous day, trying to purify the ridiculously potent toxin and then restore her very condensed and unique organs. She did not expect to be thrust into this kind of insanity, and now Rachel had caused her trouble yet again, not that she would have done any different.

A sly tilt came to Relica’s eyes. “I always finish my jobs and don’t call it worthless; I needed to test what I’m up against. I’m impressed. Rachel didn’t even hesitate. The moment they popped up, she went for the kill. I think I want to see more about this hare girl you’re so afraid of, Adele.”

“If she learns you were involved in the car accident that tried to kill her ten years ago…”

Relica’s teeth flashed. “Oh, things are starting to get fun! And don’t give me that look, Adele; I will be very careful regarding your daughter. I know she’s some messianic figure, born to usher in the Scarlet Veil—yada, yada—or whatever you call it. I’m just a little interested.”

Adele turned to leave. “I still need you, Relica. I’m not worried about my daughter… I’m worried about losing you. Prepare my way to the UK. You will fail, so don’t die here and go all in. When you do, join me. I must devise a way to get that conniving hare away from my daughter! How could this have happened?”

“Whatever you say, High Priestess,” Relica laughed, following the woman out. “Maybe you should ask the ‘all-seeing’ Scarlet Hand for advice; she’s always helpful.”

“I will.”

“I was joking! Haha. You cultists are always so serious. Oh, and Terrell, keep the unicorn girl close. A war is coming! I’m so excited.” She snatched one of the radios from a table and flipped it on. “Conner, you there? I found a little wrestling buddy for you to play with. I hear she’s quite the handful!”

“About time!” a man growled. “I’m growing bored with all these military men. All they do is destroy my clothes with their rockets and sh*t.”

“Is that right? I’d enjoy that view. Maybe I’ll join you for a little tussle under that steaming skin. I’ve been longing for something hot to press against recently. Do you mind, Adele?”

The woman didn’t respond.

“I’ll take that as a no. Haha!”

Daran and Marcus stabilized, Maria sat back on a chair and wiped the sweat from her brow.

“You work with those assholes? The hell you up to? You’re a lot of things, Terrell, but I didn’t take you to be truly evil—a devil—I just watched a kid die, man! If you’re gonna kill all these—”

Terrell punched the ground, splitting his knuckle. “Look, we all got our bosses, kid. You think I wanted to see my son choking on his own blood? sh*t! You know as well as I that fiend can twist us like a jigsaw puzzle with a flick of her wrist! That bitch was always insane, but now—sh*t! Daran…”

“Yeah, Dad,” he muttered, keeping his brother’s head up as he slept, the saved man too exhausted to remain conscious after the trauma to his body.

“Take Maria to the room with the fairy. Don’t go anywhere, Maria. Okay? sh*t is escalating way too fast, and I don’t know what’s gonna happen. Catch me?”

Maria worked around her jaw as Daran carefully put his brother’s head down. “You got no intention of letting me go, huh, amigo? I’m some product now like that terrorist chica said. Is that it?”

Terrell flexed his bleeding fist, clouded irises glaring to the side. “Dammit! Somehow the hare can see my eyes now… That damn hacker has so much intel on our operation.”

“Aye!” Maria prompted, snapping her fingers as flames rose in her belly.

“I don’t know, Maria! I got orders to take you to meet someone in Venezuela. If you comply, your block will be fine. I promise. All they asked for was you. Got it?”

Maria grunted, keeping her thoughts to herself; she had to speak the truth if she responded, so she said nothing, silvery eyes drifting to the kids.

You really think I’m just gonna lay down and roll over like that, Terrell? No way in hell you’re takin’ me to Venezuela and leavin’ my little brother to fend for himself. I’ll find a way out on my own then, and I sure as hell ain’t gonna leave these children to that devil bitch or take sh*t from these assholes.

Daran nudged his head toward the door. “This way… and thanks, Maria. Damn,” he shivered, rubbing his healed arm. “I can still see that hare girl’s red eyes. sh*t! I only saw that look for a moment—like I looked at death itself—and then that burst of light and cold heat… I don’t even know. sh*t…”

Plotting her escape while following him up the stairs to another section of the building, Maria left Terrell to cradle his youngest boy, spewing curses. Maybe the fairy chick the gangsters talked about would be game for bustin’ out of this hell hole; it was worth a shot.

She would do anything to protect her little brother and block, but she wouldn’t sit by and watch another kid die. Maria resolved to take their place without a second thought if it came to that—it’s who she was.

All of her thoughts and forming plans vanished when Daran opened the building’s main reception area door. Adele was nowhere to be seen, but cross-legged, floating three meters in the air, was a transparent figure.

Relica stood beneath the ghostly personage as it gradually spun to observe them, hood obscuring its features, but the trance-like white haze over the demonic woman’s eyes made Maria’s stomach squirm.

It only lasted a moment before she straightened and started tapping the walkie-talkie’s antenna against her mouth. “Well, that is a, hmm… that could be thrilling. I’ve changed my mind. Akio, are you done looking menacing?”

The phantom laughed, an ethereal voice reflecting off the walls in strange patterns. “Meditating to better understand the supernatural dimensions of this space, but sure, make light of my needs. Get a vision from Hecate? What’s the plan, Witch?”

“You know I only joke,” she said with a fond gesture. “Also, I prefer the term priestess to a witch, personally, but to each their own. Ah-ah-ah—don’t take her up there yet, Daran. I’m feeling rather frisky now!”

Maria came to a stop, unsure what she meant by the word.

She laughed. “Don’t give me that look, Dears! Actually, I’ve been thinking about what Adele said about Rachel and providing her with an impossible situation for her misfortune to overcome. I am really curious. I have to understand how it works! So…”

Relica pressed the button to communicate across the radios, making them wait for this supposed master plan she’d concocted. “Conner, you’ve opened up the possibility of your Legend’s Quest, correct?”

A male panther Beastkin formed out of the shadowy wall to approach the ghost and terrorist, taking note of the situation, but the woman only had ears for the radio. Maria held her unimpressed, disinterested demeanor not to appear weak as the man on the other end answered her. Yet, the conversation that followed made her want to run and just take her chances. These cartel hitmen were living in la-la land; the frightening part was not one lie was spoken.

“Sure, but I ain’t jumpin’ in that ring until I can find a worthy opponent to match up against. You saying this bunny girl you mentioned will even the load?”

“I am! Isn’t this just too perfect?” Relica’s grin widened as she began to pace. “Gather ten men and ten women. Drugs, alcohol, sex, music, and all the ecstasy between. Hehe. Then, kill them when you’re all doped up.”

“The hell?” Maria mumbled, unable to believe things could continue to spiral into the point of devilish rituals. “I want no part in this satanic sh*t, bitch!”

“Oh, you’re only there to purify Conner when he’s done; he’s gotta be sharp for the whole encounter with Rachel! No need to sully those pure loins of yours—you are a virgin, right? Haha. I knew it!” she said at Maria’s scowl, which had nothing to do with the comment. “You should be in a Catholic abbey, but being a virgin in this day and age is certainly one in a billion, so I suppose a Unicorn fits the hoof. Such a silly belief. Still there, Conner?”

“I’m listening now. Haha. A ritual to gain favor?”

“You know how fickle lesser gods can be! Prepare your Legend’s Quest while I go to set the stage for the performance. Ah! I’m getting chills just thinking about it! Ah, Luis,” she clapped, finally noticing the Beastkin. “How is our lovely fairy?”

“Our enchantments need to be redone soon,” he muttered. “Are we expecting company?”

“Indeed! Get Eliza and Margaret ready. Is Egor already here?”

“From what I understand, he arrived with that MI6 group you mentioned, but the blockade is making things rough; they said the transport ritual would be done in the next hour. Is Aabid finished, eh, feasting? I’m not going in if he’s not.”

“So far as I’m aware. Don’t be a baby!”

Akio rubbed his transparent chin, lifting a few papers to use his supernatural powers to fold them into paper planes. “You’re playing it too close to the chest, Relica. I’m bored. What’s this about?”

“Hehe. It’s too bad you won’t feel the warmth of one ever again as a Lost Phantom Abarrentkin—too close to the heart?” she snickered at the ghost’s dull grunt, yet there was a sickly smile under the hood. “War, my dear Yakuza hitter! War! Gather the troops and have them take their positions.”

She marched to the door with purpose and a song to her voice. “We’re spooks and ghouls tonight, loves! Oh, and, Akio, I want you to saturate this building with your presence… No one gets out alive—well, except for Conner, of course.”

The hair on the back of Maria’s neck rose as he lowered himself to the ground, fingers digging into the tile. A ghostly light cracked it, infusing into the environment and spreading out before it was replaced by wood.

Maria backed away, but the ripple in space passed through her, chilling her marrow as a massive wave of negative energy permeated the entire building inward until a maze of hallways, doors, and rooms cycled around her.

Relica was now upside down on the ceiling, a double paper-wooden door sliding open to a bright light that allowed her to leave. Daran choked, rubbing his throat beside her as the laughing woman exited.

“It’s… endless.”

Maria felt the phantom’s presence all around her as a prickle ran across her spine, making her jump.

“No purifying my negative energy, Sweetie… I wouldn’t want to get rough with such a beautiful woman. Now… if you could follow me. Welcome, to my domain.”

Clicks and creaking wood erupted in a frenzy before silence took them, and one after another, dozens of doors slammed open to guide them to the room where they kept the fairy.

Knowing she was trapped for the time being, Maria didn’t say a word, cursing her luck. Perhaps her brush with Rachel had sent her down this path of misfortune. She followed Daran’s lead for now, but she’d find a way out; she had to find a way out.

* * *

Rachel’s mind spun webs of connecting thoughts as Astra informed them that Terrell had been spying on them for some time. She prodded the air, causing a holographic, digital display to pop up. Expanding it with a simple gesture, she flicked it through space to stop in front of Saint Barbara before it branched out to mirror the data to the rest of them.

An invisible eye was shown on the feed, partially transparent. The man had some kind of clairvoyance ability that allowed him to know where and when the SEAL team would strike. It was a miracle the special OPs unit had managed to retreat at all.

Knowing what to look for with the knowledge of the device, Rachel’s senses zeroed in on the objects, making her smile as they appeared.

[Divine Beast Empowerment I] Advanced from D-tier to C-tier.

According to Astra, the cartel had brought several big names to Miami, including one from the local prison that had broken out; she didn’t have much info on them, at the moment, but it wasn’t Adele. Scarlet was nervous about meeting her mother, but the hacker assured them that the woman appeared to be leaving, and she was pissed by the few phrases she could snatch from nearby devices.

Terrell’s people used the city’s towers, which were easy for her to track and infiltrate, but satellite-linked devices were far more troublesome. Without knowing which one they were using, it would be more challenging than it was worth to get anything further. Besides, she already had a wealth of data she’d collected.

Unfortunately, when she played her hand to start building rapport with them, Terrell had been made aware of the leaks and her existence. Now, all networked devices have been moved to another location, cutting her off from their primary leadership as they went to shortwave radio.

Partway through the hacker’s extravagant showcase with images, video, and an endless stream of changing avatars to make it perfectly clear she was always an enigma, Rachel’s ears flew up. Scarlet saw it first.

“What’s wrong, Rachel?”

Gut twisting, Rachel got to her feet. Vision narrowing, she kept her focus away from the hovering eye overhead; her instincts told her something terrible would happen to her parents, and she could guess what it would be if Terrell had been observing them.

You think you can kidnap my mom and dad—apply leverage? Well, buddy, you’ve made it personal now.

Leaving the room, Saint Barbara, Scarlet, Selvaria, and Astra followed her.

“Was my explanation that boring?” the elderly hacker asked, stroking his beard and chewing his gum; he examined the holographic screen that kept pace with him. “I thought you’d like the whole kaiju fight idea.”

“I like that idea,” Selvaria dully said, throwing a fist in the air. “I’ll be the greatest kaiju! No one can out-kaiju the invincible leviathan.”

The green berets looked confused at the old man that somehow had entered the very private gathering; they fell in line with the tight-faced captain, asking for clarification. Rachel answered while opening the door, pumping her fist a few times as her fingers started to glow with white light.

“You know those Ellis guys you told us about, Astra?”

“Uh… yeah?”

“Well, they’re here for round two.”

“Rachel?” her mother asked, eyes going big in the chair she shared with her father.

“Just stay still, Mom, and…”

A flash of multi-hued lights revealed the kidnapping pair, and Rachel shot forward as a blur, the others only just starting to react as time slowed to Rachel’s accelerated mind. Daran’s hand went to grab her mother’s shoulder, a honeycomb barrier closing around them to isolate her parents.

Hissing out the air in her lungs and using the form she’d practiced tens of thousands of times in her Muay Thai training, Rachel’s fist struck the shell. Her intense gaze fixated on the teleporter; her illuminated hand erupted in a dazzling radiance, blinding everyone.

[Lunar Burst I] shattered the wall, crushing the younger brother as he was propelled back. Curses rang out from the radiance she released, a shockwave causing chilled air to fling her ponytail around, yet she wasn’t aiming at the shielder. Her blow connected with Daran’s shoulder, thrown off by the barrier.

Saved by his brother’s shell, the man toppled onto Marcus, his younger brother gurgling and spewing blood from the internal shock of her Lunar Energy-charged blast; apparently, the man’s shields were connected to his body, and her element bypassed his resistance, and dampening effects.

Following the momentum, she pivoted to a roundhouse kick, foot turning the brick to powder as it passed through the teleporting brothers, escaping at the last second.

“Damn cowards,” she snarled, legs tingling and her foot a little sore as she pulled away from the powdered wall, the blow bending the rebar within and damaging her shoes.

Her mother was clinging to her father, eyes wide. “H-Huh?!”

Astra crossed his arms, taking on a younger avatar. “They went after your family; I should have seen that coming. My bad.”

Selvaria glared at where they’d been before running to the other room to check on her mom, making the soldiers dart to the sides of the hall not to get run over. “Aww, hell no, they didn’t!”

“She’s fine, Selv!” Scarlet called after her, vampiric eyes returning to check on the rooms around them. “I-I don’t see them, Rachel!”

“They’re not coming back after that,” Barbara sighed, rubbing the back of her neck. “I guess if they’ve got an eye on us, that changes things. We need to move fast. Mateo, get everyone ready; we’re heading out. Rachel?”

Rachel put on a strained smile for her mother as she bent down to assure her everything would be okay, but her heart was ice. It was time to switch lanes; the gloves were coming off.

“Mom, I’ll explain it all later. I love you—can you just come with me without all the questions—please, Mom?”

Her mother’s big brown eyes told her she wasn’t okay with what just happened, but she nodded as her father squeezed her hand and pulled them up.

“Just… promise me…”

“I promise,” she laughed, knowing what she was asking while hugging them and pulling her parents toward the door. “Captain, I’ll be right out. I just need to go talk to Anthony and Amelia. Scarlet, can you grab Selv’s mom and meet me up there? I’m sure another attempt will be made while we’re gone; I have to expect it.”

Astra pointed at her. “I’ll be with them then, Captain! Haha. You need someone acting as Overwatch, and I need protection. Win-win!”

“A fair assessment,” Barbara said, getting out of their way. “Tighten up your hair, girls; you don’t want it getting in the way. Scarlet?”

“I’ll be fine! If my mom is there… I have to know why she would do this—allow this—it’s not my mom. It just… it’s not the mom I grew up with,” she mumbled, rubbing her arm while jogging into the other room to fetch Selvaria.

Showing a confident expression to her parents on the outside; there was only one thing going through her heart. Whoever had the bright idea of targeting her parents, they would die. Anthony would keep them safe in the meantime, and she had an answer for the man’s fiancé.

The thrill of an upcoming battle quickened her pace; just because it was personal didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy it. In fact, it made the flavor all the more sweet.

B1 — 17. Bringer of Misfortune - The Oscillation (2024)

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