The alleyway was like a thousand others in London, so no one took particular note on this evening as it filled with dark mist. The mist cascaded down from rooftops and landed heavily for something so insubstantial. Air moved and swirled, kicking up wastepaper, rippling the surfaces of the shallow puddles collected in the corners. The mist first thickened as it gathered, condensed, than congealed into a swarm as particles joined with one another, sought others, and joined again. The outlines of a creature formed in the air.
But wait, the creature decided. Not one. Three. There was time to be one later. For now, one was too slow, too kind. Three was better. The creature was hungry and needed energy to grow, so that when it became one, eventually, it would be almost impossible to stop. So three beings formed in the alley, three that were one. They exchanged nods and glances, as if coming to an agreement, though as they were of one mind, there would never have been any dissent. Their sole desire was to feed, to grow. Resolved, they loped out of the alleyway, into the city. They were only looking for food. The mayhem left in their wake, at least for now, was none of their concern.
From the hotel room window, Sal could hear the sirens from ambulances, carrying a sense of growing threat, of pressure rising. It was all over the news in London, exploding on social media, though exactly what the it was, nobody could say. BBC commentators struggled with the lack of footage. Cameras, phones, microphones, anything that used electricity seemed to go on the fritz as soon as they got close. Reports from terrified eyewitnesses offered little more than what the witnesses were feeling. News outlets passed around tweets.
My apartment is destroyed.
Just saw something eat part of a car.
Smoke, mayhem. Mom I love you.
There was no dispute about the damage. By now it was clear that it wasn’t just an it; it was a them. Three of them. Helicopters captured it best: three trails that meandered through the city with only some regard for the division between streets and buildings. The trails zigzagged down major thoroughfares and then burst into windows, burst out of walls on another side of the block, leaving stripes of wrecked cars, broken glass, and shattered plaster. People were being killed, going missing. The police were at a loss. The authorities called it a rolling attack, possibly the result of terrorism, and urged calm and caution. The mayor told people to stay inside, but stay alert. It was getting out of hand.
“What’s our move?” Sal said.
Liam didn’t raise his eyes; he was too busy following the news on his laptop. Grace and Menchú looked to Asanti, Perry, and Frances, who had her appendages hidden beneath a long skirt as she sat in her wheelchair.
“It’s complicated,” Perry said. “What we have here goes a little beyond your usual MO of capture and containment. I’m not sure you can do it without help.”
“It seems Cardinal Fox agrees with you,” Menchú said, a trace of bitterness in his voice.
“But Team One might not be the right tool for the job either,” Asanti said.
“Like a screwdriver for a nail, eh?” Liam said, still without looking up.
“Maybe more like bringing a flamethrower to stop a flood,” Perry said.
“Nice image,” Sal said, “but not useful. We have only a few hours before Team One arrives with everything they’ve got. What can we do?”
“Punching might work,” Grace said. “At least a little.”
“She’s not entirely wrong about that,” Perry said. “These are creatures of brute force. They might respond to rage and blunt trauma in ways that they won’t respond to bullets.”
Sal thought Grace gave her a little smile.
“Slowing them down is worthwhile if it means less people hurt,” Menchú said. “Even one less person. But do you think we’re enough to stop them?”
“No,” Perry said. “For that we might need help.”
Menchú sighed. “Magical help, yes?”
“But old magic,” Perry said.
“Fight fire with fire?” Sal said.
“You’re mixing my metaphor,” Perry said. “Fight flood with flood.”
“But doesn’t that just make a bigger flood?” Sal said.
“It’s a bad metaphor,” Perry admitted. “Though it might be accurate if we’re not careful. I know how all of you feel about the cavalry who comes to save you now and again, but I for one don’t think it’s bad that they’re on their way.”
“They could kill thousands.”
“And save tens of millions.” Perry shook his head. “But there might be time to stop it.”
Menchú sagged. “Tell us what you have in mind.”
Liam looked up at last....