We were in it deep.
Shadows crawled over the armor and gripped it from every end; I could feel them flexing--working to pull me apart. The engine growled as I tried to pull my limbs free, but the darkness held.
"Red, now would be a fantastic time for you to go nuclear," I said.
She managed to hold the shadows around her at bay with the lightning from her glove; whenever any got close, long strokes of energy would shred the darkness and force it back. But she seemed to be having trouble generating enough to reach me.
That's when I remembered: Flash grenade.
I jerked my right arm hard and managed to get some slack. With as much pull as I could exert, I twisted my hand around and dislodged one of the small bombs from my backpack--I snapped it on and dropped it to the floor.
"Look away," I told her, right before the light exploded.
I heard Voodoo Jones curse as the room flooded with blinding light. The shadows retreated--and I lunged forward. I could see him now, clenching his hands over his eyes. One punch and he'd be down for the count.
Still blind, he spat a single word at me--a word that hit me like a solid wall of force from above. I slammed down to the ground--felt the floor buckle beneath me. The armor absorbed the majority of the hit, but I was still left breathless beneath the sheer weight that the word somehow exerted.
He spoke the word again. The floor cracked; I heard support beams beneath me groaning as steel and concrete creaked. Warning signs started flooding the bottom left of the helmet's view screen.
"Little help," I said, wheezing.
A wave of sound roared out from somewhere behind me. Voodoo Jones shrieked and stumbled back, clutching his ears. Red crouched and covered her own ears--she wasn't in the cone projected by Sumerset's sonic inducers, but she was close enough to the fringes. My helmet absorbed the worst of it, though it still gave me a bit of an ear-ache.
"I've got a pair of sonic inducers, an itchy trigger finger, and an mp3 player crammed full of pirated Lady Gaga," Sumerset said. "You want to dance, spell-chucker? Let's dance."
The shadows retreated. I felt the weight lift from me; the silhouette of black spider legs sprouted from Jones' back. With a skitter and clatter, they began to crawl along the wall behind him, clamboring up the stairs. Sumerset stepped forward and fired another blast of sound, but by then he was gone.
"God dammit," Sumerset said. "Gotta go after him--"
"Roof," Red said, her voice hoarse. "He's headed toward the roof."
"How do you know?" Sumerset said.
"Sense magic there," she said. "Something big."
"Can you fly us up?" I asked.
She shook her head. "Can only extend the flight magic to women."
Sumerset spat out a curse. "Fucking magic."
"Okay," I said. "Take me up. Sumerset, you take the stairs." I turned to Red, holding out my hand. "Can you do that, Red?" She didn't look very well, but the lightning around her had started to pick up again. When I caught her eyes with mine, she quickly nodded.
"I am fine," she said. "He caught me off-guard."
I wasn't sure what was happening, but I trusted her. I reached my hand out for her glove. "Take us up," I told her.
I felt that familiar tingle pass through me again. Red turned her attention above us and closed her eyes. The tingle deepened--and when Red opened her eyes, they were churning with a furious white light.
"Goddesses, lend me your lightning."
A single bolt ripped through the floor and speared up toward the ceiling; in its wake, we followed. Wood and concrete ruptured above as we flew straight up--soaring into the upper levels of the apartment.
Room after room passed by in a blur--floor after floor exploded in a flash of electricity and force. When we reached the roof, there was a tremendous krack-kow; we drifted to the ground.
Voodoo Jones stood at the center of a circle writ in chalk near the roof's edge with his hands extended. He was grinning.
"Be careful," Red said. "He has cast some manner of spell--"
He spoke a word. It sounded like how spider-legs felt--crawling up and down your back and into your ears. I shivered and stepped back; a gray, swirling fog began to emerge from where he stood.
The shadows that surrounded him began to take form. They looked like the exaggerrated silhouettes of people--extended arms, mishapen backs, lumpish heads. Their fingers extended into claws and their faces were filled with gleaming black teeth.
"What the hell," I said.
"Lurklings," she said. "Every time Jones sacrificed someone's identity to the Gray, they became a shadow--a lurkling--in his service. And now he is releasing them on the Stix. To devour it."
I took a step back. "There's, uh, a lot of them," I said. I counted fifty, maybe sixty. They were rapidly filling the space around Voodoo Jones--some of them hovered above him, others crouched on the ground. Every moment, more of them seemed to spring from the darkness around him.
"Yes," Red agreed. "Far too many. He has not sacrificed enough--not nearly enough to--"
They howled in unison, springing in every direction at once. They soared down into the city streets--some of them swooped out toward buildings, others toward the sky. Even through the helmet, the sound of their collective howls hurt like hell.
When the sound dimmed down, Voodoo Jones started to laugh. Something about it sounded deranged--like he was on the verge of cracking. "I made a trade," he told us. "I gave the Gray my true name."
"Are you mad?!" Red said. "You will become a lurkling yourself!"
"I'll buy it back when I sell the Stix to Gray," he replied, and then he stepped back out of the circle. "But don't worry. Turns out my true name was worth quite a bit more than I expected. I had a little bargaining power to spare... So I bought you both a present."
The circle where he had stood smoked and smoldered. Its center cracked--and along the edges of the cracks pulsed a red glow.
"That's bad," I said, positioning myself between the circle and Red. "I mean, that is bad, right?"
"What have you done?" Red asked him, her voice desperate and quiet.
"I summoned insurance," Voodoo Jones said, and then shadows extended from his back in the form of immense bat-wings. He gave them a sharp flap--and was pulled up into the air.
The circle exploded. A swell of sulphur and brimstone whirled up across us. An immense red fist reached out of the smoking hole, gripping the roof's edge.
Something I hadn't even dreamt of since Sunday school dragged its way out.