28 - Psychotic Dawn

Cataclysm put the last of the dishes in the dishwasher and started it up. She wiped down the counters as the machine hummed. She'd been in the new place for a couple of months and was still getting used to it. It was a nice apartment, certainly the nicest place she'd lived in since she'd joined the Maniacs as a teenager, but it still felt wrong somehow. Part of it was the downtown location. She was a Westside girl and felt out of place here. Plus she still didn't like the fact that it was a Harmon-owned property, though neither Defender nor Witchcraft gave her even the slightest hint of attitude about it.

She scrubbed the counter harder as she thought of Witchcraft. She found herself getting angry every time she thought of the woman. Their relationship had been floundering lately. Cataclysm was hostile to her for no reason. Witchcraft tolerated it but even she was starting to lose her patience. Every time Witchcraft tried to talk about it, Cataclysm shut her down. Cataclysm didn't know why she got so irritated with the woman, and that frustrated her, which made her angry, which she took out on Witchcraft, and so the cycle continued.

Their magic lessons had languished. Cataclysm was afraid to push her power after what had happened against Menton. Witchcraft could tell she was holding back but Cataclysm wouldn't say why. Cataclysm had finally decided to take a break from the sessions and wasn't sure when or even if she was going back.

She still hadn't been allowed to see Pyro. Cataclysm had talked to her about the possibility of registering her powers and Pyro's succinct opinion was, "Fuck 'em." They could still call or write and it was only a few months until Pyro would be getting out. However that might not be the end of it. It's very possible her parole officer wouldn't want her hanging out with her old gang friends, especially an unregistered meta who still wore gang colors.

"Stop it," she mumbled to herself. She was spending too much time by herself and her thoughts inevitably ended up going down this same depressing path. Maybe she'd numb her brain with TV for a while.

Her phone rang before she found the remote. She looked to see who it was and felt a flash of annoyance when she saw Witchcraft's name. "Stop it!" she said to herself again before answering.

Witchcraft jumped right to the point. "Are you familiar with a villain named Psychotic? Female, extensive cybernetic enhancements, robot minions?"

"No," said Cataclysm slowly as she ran through the rogues' gallery in her mind. "Doesn't sound familiar."

"Well she apparently knows you. She's taken a dozen or so hostages at the Museum of Natural History at an event they were having about some new display of Lemurian artifacts. She wants you and only you to go in and rescue the hostages. If anyone else sets foot in the building she'll kill all the hostages immediately."

"Hmm. Sounds like a trap."

"Maybe," Witchcraft mused, "but if you don't know her than maybe it's just a fan." Cataclysm rolled her eyes. That was one of the many penalties of notoriety: up and coming villains who wanted to make a name by taking down someone famous. If that's what was happening, this would be her first. Witchcraft said, "You up to checking this out? If not, I can handle it."

"No," Cataclysm said slowly. She hadn't been out fighting since Stronghold, both to keep a low profile until the public forgot about her and over her concern about her growing power. "No, I'll go. I have to get back into the game eventually."

"You know where it is? Right down the street from City Hall. Just look for all the police cars."

Cataclysm made a disgusted noise and then said, "Okay, I'm on my way."

Witchcraft said teasingly, "Remember it's a museum. Try not to burn the place down."

Cataclysm forced herself to give a little laugh. "I'll do my best."

Cataclysm flew high above the museum looking down at the assembled crowd. She saw police, SWAT, MARS, ambulance and fire as well as a large crowd of onlookers the police were trying to keep back. Three news helicopters and a police chopper battled her for air space. She couldn't see any obvious signs of the intruders. The front door was intact and nobody was looking out. If it hadn't been for all the emergency personnel she wouldn't have been able to tell anything was wrong.

She considered what Witchcraft had said. Those front doors didn't look that expensive so she considered coming in blasting but there were hostages to consider. She could check in with the cops to see if they knew anything about the situation inside, but that wasn't going to happen. She settled down in a cloud of flame nearly at the top of the stairs that went up the side of the building to the entrance. She climbed the last few steps and craned her head around to peek through the glass doors.

She could see only a small slice of the lobby, which stretched off to the left and right out of her view. The building ended to the left so the room couldn't go very far that way. That meant she needed to go right. She didn't like not knowing what she was facing but that was easily solved. She called up her fire shield and pushed the door open.

Cataclysm glanced to the left just long enough to confirm the area was empty and then turned right. There was a rack for coats at the far end and an admission desk to the left with a hallway entrance just past it. About twenty feet away from her were four robots, two with energy rifles and two with arms that ended in nasty melee weapons. She also spotted three men sitting on the ground tied and gagged. The gunners immediately raised their weapons and fired as the other two ran towards her. The energy bolts spattered harmlessly against her shield. The robots weren't standing near the hostages and there was nothing irreplaceable in the lobby so she felt comfortable bathing the cluster of automatons with flame. They fell quickly.

She didn't approach the hostages immediately but instead waited to see if another attack would come. She whirled in surprise when a woman's voice said from behind her, "Cataclysm, I'm so pleased you accepted my invitation." The woman then laughed a cold chuckle that sent shivers up Cataclysm's spine. There was nobody there but she quickly spotted the wireless speaker stuck up on the wall. She thought about blasting it but suspected there would be more.

"Congratulations," the woman continued. "You have passed the first test. As your prize, you win three hostages. Future challenges will be more difficult however." Again she laughed her cold chuckle. Cataclysm brought her eyebrows together. There was something familiar about the voice but it was distorted by the small, cheap speaker and Cataclysm couldn't place it.

She approached the hostages, watching the door. She became aware one of the hostages was agitated. She looked over and he was trying to get her attention, motioning with his head and his eyes frantically. She stopped and looked, seeing a device attached to the wall. It was a laser trigger, mounted about mid-calf height. She looked at the other wall and saw the receiver. Neither had any cables but a wireless signal could set off anything in the room. "Any others?" she asked softly. He shook his head.

It was easy enough to step over the invisible beam to get to the hostages. Cataclysm burned through their ropes quickly, keeping her eye on the corridor. She put her finger over her lips as they removed their gags. She led them back over the laser trigger and towards the door. She stopped the man who had helped her while the other two hurried out the door. "You know what that's connected to?" she asked, nodding at the trigger.

"They put something behind that," he said, pointing to a display announcing the Lemurian artifacts. "I think it was a claymore. You know, an antipersonnel mine."

"You military?" she asked.

He grinned sheepishly. "No. I've seen them in computer games."

"Did you see how many other robots?"

"I'm not sure," he said in a shaking voice. "Fifteen. Twenty maybe. Their leader, she's...she's..." He swallowed. "Big. All claws and metal. Really vicious. I'm going to be seeing her in my nightmares for a while. I think they're after the Lemurian artifact."

"Artifact?" she asked, still watching the corridor.

"Yeah. That's what this thing is about. The Lemurians brought some of their treasures including one big artifact that's the centerpiece."

"How many hostages?"

"Don't know. A lot of people got out before they sealed up the place. But, look, there's kids in there."

Cataclysm looked over at him. He was pale and shaking and had clearly had enough. "Okay, go," she said with a jerk of her head. He hurried gratefully out the door.

She studied the trigger sourly. There would be other hostages coming through here so she couldn't leave it. She backed as far away as she could, called up a defensive spell and shot a spear of flame at the trigger. The display advertising the Lemurian artifacts exploded into a cloud of shrapnel that peppered the room. No fragments reached her but it would have torn the hostages to shreds.

"Oh goody," came the woman's voice. "You found one of my party favors. I do hope it painted the room in a festive splash of red." Again she cackled.

Cataclysm moved towards the hallway. She had hoped the robots would attack and she could burn them down as they came but no such luck. The hall was narrow and short. At the far end were the bathrooms and an archway opened to the right.

She stepped into the short corridor eyeing the opening on her right. Suddenly the floor tile shifted slightly and something made a loud click. Cataclysm threw up a defensive spell and braced herself. Nothing happened. She stood there for several seconds waiting but no trap was sprung. She gingerly lifted her foot. The floor tile made another click and she again tensed. Nothing happened for a second time. She waited cautiously but nothing continued to happen. She grumbled to herself and moved to the archway.

She peered around the corner and saw it opened into the area before an elevator to the right. A hall led forward through some kind of geology exhibit and another went to the left. The latter was blocked by a clumsy barricade of museum displays. Looking past it she saw displays of samurai armor and ancient weapons. Nowhere could she see any robots or hostages, though she spotted a couple of those portable speakers like the one in the lobby.

Cataclysm was obviously supposed to go forward so she turned left and studied the barricade. It wasn't very sturdy and she debated about simply blasting it, but decided to pull it apart instead. She started dragging a display case off the top of the pile when the woman's voice sounded over the speaker. "Ah, ah, ah," she cautioned. "Leaving the field of play will incur severe penalties." That was followed by a scream of pain Cataclysm heard both over the speaker and down the corridor.

Cataclysm's face clouded. She hesitated to play the other woman's game but as long as the hostages were involved she didn't have much of a choice. She looked down the corridor and saw it turned left about a hundred feet away. A robot was peeking around the corner. In irritation she sent a spear of flame after it but it ducked back long before the attack reached it and then peeked back, watching her. Cataclysm mused that maybe Psychotic could see through her robot minions' eyes but at this distance she had no real chance of hitting the machine. "For fuck's sake," she sighed and stomped down the hallway.

She was so lost in her irritation she almost didn't see the tripwire. She froze as the light glinted off a line at ankle height. Cataclysm looked down the corridor and the robot continued to watch her impassively. She squatted down and looked. There was another wire, thinner and easy to miss, about three feet off the ground. It would have been easy to run into the second while she was carefully stepping over the first.

Cataclysm's eye ran down the wires. They ran behind one of the mineral displays, too big and heavy for her to move. She scanned the area but couldn't see anything obvious that it triggered. However the hall was filled with all kinds of displays and signs and other junk, and they could be hiding anything. As with the other trap, she couldn't leave it and risk the hostages setting it off. The two lines each had a little slack so weren't under tension. She could cut them and not set off the trap.

She muttered a spell and sharp lances of fire shot out of her fingertips like bright talons. She brought the searing flame up to the wires and let the heat melt each trigger. They fell to the ground. She pushed each end to the side, out of the main path, and stood. The robot continued to watch her. She considered flipping it off but that seemed a little childish.

Cataclysm knew this could be a false trap so remained vigilant as she resumed her trip down the hall. The woman's voice said, "Bravo. So clever disarming my trip like that. It's too bad that I cheat."

Cataclysm heard a bang and threw up a shield. She caught a blur of motion on the edge of her vision and dodged to the side. One of the heavy displays toppled over and she avoided being crushed only by throwing herself against the far wall. The display smashed to the floor with an enormous crash. The display glass shattered but the shards weren't much of a threat to her heavy-soled boots. She glanced at the wall behind the display and saw a scorch mark and the remains of a small demolition charge.

"Why don't you face me, you pussy?" Cataclysm demanded.

"In time, child," Psychotic assured her. "You're almost here."

Again Cataclysm was nagged by something familiar about the voice but didn't have time to think about it. She was getting angry and it was time to end this. She walked purposefully towards the turn, sending another blast of flame at the robot. It withdrew again but didn't come back. She heard its footsteps moving off. She approached the turn and forced herself to stop and look around the corner rather than barreling into an unknown situation.

There were three robots there. Two were like the ones in the lobby and carried guns, though their rifles were slung on their backs. One carried a bucket and the other, probably the one that had been watching her, was picking up a container of its own. The third robot was much larger and heavier. It had a buzz saw at the end of one arm and a massive hammer on the other. There were also four hostages, three boys and a girl. They looked to be twelve to sixteen years old. They were standing, tied back-to-back in pairs, gagged and blindfolded. When the robots saw her the two gunners threw the contents of their buckets on the kids, causing them to squeal in terror. A sharp smell reached Cataclysm almost instantly: gasoline. The hostages were drenched in it.

She pulled back as they opened fire. "Shit," she said emphatically. She listened to see if the big one would come after her and maybe she could take him out away from the flammable kids but no such luck. The robots had stopped firing when she retreated to cover and they weren't pursuing her either. They didn't need to.

Cataclysm might have been willing to try taking on the gunners in hand to hand, but she didn't have any illusions she could beat the big one in a physical confrontation. However it took her only a moment to come up with a solution. It was time to light a candle.

She reinforced her defensive magic and stepped out. They resumed fire and she kept moving to remain a difficult target but wasn't too worried about the damage they would do. She cast the spell but this was the first time she'd ever done it in combat. It required a bit more concentration than her normal "spray everything with fire" technique, especially since she was working blind. In fact to a casual observer she seemed to be doing nothing.

It took several seconds and then one of the gunners paused. Smoke started to come out of the seams in its skull. It resumed firing but was having trouble tracking her. Then, without any fuss, it keeled over. She turned her attention on the other gunner, focusing on creating tiny fires inside its body. It was like the exercises Witchcraft had taken her through--extreme precision. The difference is if she made a mistake, four kids were going to have a very bad day. She was afraid even this small amount of heat could ignite the gas fumes.

The second gunner collapsed and the big robot seemed to realize something was going on. It lumbered towards her. It left the pool of gasoline but she still wasn't ready to take a chance with the hostages' lives. She dodged the screaming buzz saw as she tried to create a fire in its head. The hammer smashed into the wall behind her but she kept her focus. However this one wasn't going down so easily. She wasn't sure if its internal systems were more robust or if its sensitive circuits were simply in a different place. She took a blow on her shield which staggered her but she continued to concentrate, trying to start fires in different areas of its torso now. Finally the thing started to slow and she redoubled her energies. It ground to a halt, not falling like the others but standing there like it was waiting.

Cataclysm backed off and watched it, suspecting a trick, but it didn't seem to be moving. The sharp smell of burned electronics reached her nose. She knew she needed to get the kids out of there. She moved up and pulled down the blindfold on one of them, a boy about fourteen. He started when he saw her but she was getting used to that. She removed all their blindfolds and gags and they watched her warily. They were bound with plastic zip-ties and she didn't have a knife.

"I don't dare burn these off," she said. She pointed down the corridor. "Go. Head straight out. There are about a hundred cops outside. They can help you." They hesitated and she snarled, "Go!" The teens scurried off, moving clumsily since they were still bound together. She put them out of her mind and turned down the hallway.

Cataclysm came to an open area containing the obligatory T-Rex every natural history museum had. She watched it, wondering if it was about to come to life, but it seemed content to simply stand there posing. A stairway led up and she climbed it cautiously.

Crouching woman with extensive cybernetic enhancements including claws and metal wings
A new villain appears in Millennium City

"Welcome!" exclaimed Psychotic as Cataclysm climbed into a large open room. "I'm so pleased you have chosen to join us."

The room was set up to display a collection of Lemurian artifacts. The largest of these was an enormous crystal inside a shattered glass case up on a stage. Also on the stage was an enormous figure. She stood nearly seven feet tall, and was probably a big woman even before her enhancements. It was hard to tell what part of her was flesh anymore. Her hands and feet ended in enormous metal talons. Armored plates protected her body and most of her face was obscured by tubes running in and out of her skull. On her back was a pair of rust-colored metal wings, also spiked like the rest of her. Cataclysm understood why the man said he'd be seeing her in his nightmares. This, presumably, was Psychotic.

"Your toys are pretty breakable," Cataclysm observed as she scanned the room.

"Perhaps but at least you can't turn them against me," Psychotic observed.

Cataclysm wasn't sure what that comment was supposed to mean but was focused on studying the area. There were a dozen hostages in the room, an even mix of humans and blue-skinned Lemurians. The humans were grouped to the left of the stage and the Lemurians to the right. They weren't bound but all of them looked scared. There were no other robots in the room.

"Unfortunately," Psychotic said from the stage, "my invitation to this gala was apparently lost in the mail. I almost missed this event. Sadly, the Lemurians throw deadly dull parties but I have an exciting game we can play to liven things up. It's called 'Who Is Going To Die?'" She cackled madly as she turned to lift the Lemurian crystal. Cataclysm advanced into the room. She was going to need to be close to get a clear shot at Psychotic without endangering the civilians.

Psychotic turned back, holding the crystal. "I haven't figured all the powers of this little trinket," she said, "but I have discovered one thing. Watch." The crystal started to glow and Cataclysm dropped into a defensive stance. After about three seconds a powerful beam of energy shot out. However rather than hitting her, it speared one of the concrete support beams and burned right through it.

Psychotic laughed again. "Isn't it wonderful? Imagine all the other powers it will have. Now here is where we get to the game. You can see I have divided our players into two teams. I am going to use the power of this artifact to kill one of the teams and you get to choose which one dies! Doesn't that sound like fun?"

"No," Cataclysm said, continuing to advance towards Psychotic. "I'm not going to play."

The cyborg sighed. "That is certainly a possible third option but in that case I'm simply going to kill them all. You can save half of them but you are going to have to choose which of them will die." She smiled evilly. "Quickly, now, the clock is ticking."

Cataclysm ran scenarios through her mind. She studied the layout of the room, the position of Psychotic, the position of the hostages and none of it looked good. She had an idea but it wasn't a good one. "Okay," she said. "I've decided."

"Wonderful!" She chanted, as though she was prompting an audience, "Who...Is...Going...To...Die?"

"You," Cataclysm said and rocketed through the air towards Psychotic. Her only hope was to rip the crystal from her before she could fire it. She saw the artifact start to glow and build up its charge. She slammed into the other woman and it was like, well, slamming into a huge woman made of metal. Cataclysm was dazed but struggled to grab the crystal and tear it from Psychotic's claws. "Run!" she snarled to the hostages. "Get out of here!"

The people froze for a moment but then started pelting towards the stairs, some of them screaming. Cataclysm started to call up a spell when a blinding flash of light dazzled her. She felt an enormous force punch her in the chest and she was flying across the room. She tried to fire a blast in the reverse direction to slow herself down but hit the far wall before she could get the spell off. She fell to the floor and struggled to get up to her hands and knees.

She looked around groggily to see the last of the hostages disappear down the stairs. She turned to see where Psychotic was to get ready to dodge another attack, but the villain was standing there impassively, holding the crystal but not trying to fire it. As Cataclysm struggled back to her feet, Psychotic sighed theatrically. "Sacrificing yourself to save the little people. That is so like you, firefly."

Cataclysm went cold inside. Suddenly she knew why the voice had sounded familiar. She stared at the woman, at the jaw line that peeked out from the metal the covered the rest of her head, looking for something she recognized. "Zoe?" she said in horror.

"No!" Psychotic shrieked, throwing the Lemurian artifact to the floor. She leapt into the air, glided on her metal wings and slammed into Cataclysm knocking her back to the floor. Cataclysm instinctively threw up her shield as Psychotic tore at her viciously with her metal claws. "Don't reveal my secret identity!" the woman screamed. "That's not how the game is played!"

Cataclysm's combat instincts took over. She blasted Psychotic with a spear of flame, but rather than knocking her across the room it barely moved her. However it distracted her enough that Cataclysm was able to wriggle out from under her and regain her feet. Psychotic snarled and charged at her through the wall of flame Cataclysm put up. Cataclysm dodged to the side since her shield was quickly failing under the powerful attacks.

The woman lunged at her again and Cataclysm continued to blast her. She called down a rain of fire and kept backing away from the sharp talons, but the room wasn't big enough to maneuver. Her shield failed and Psychotic was on her. She felt the sharp metal edges tearing into her arms and her anger blew out of control. Cataclysm reached deep inside herself and released a holocaust into the room.

The heat was so fierce that Psychotic finally backed off. Cataclysm kept the torrent of flame up, trying to beat the woman through sheer power. And then the air rippled and shifted, and Cataclysm hesitated. She was still afraid of that power and wasn't sure she could control the true Fire. She pulled back just a little but that was all the opening Psychotic needed.

Psychotic leapt at her again and tore at her flesh with the talons on her hands and feet. The villain shrieked at her in triumph and anger, and Cataclysm tried to fight back but she was quickly being overwhelmed. Her flesh tore and pain filled her mind. She tried to divert her energies to healing but that just weakened her attack, prompting Psychotic to savage her with even more ferocity. Cataclysm diverted all her anger into a massive stream of flame, driving Psychotic back, but it was just a delaying tactic. Cataclysm was backed into a corner and couldn't even flee.

Suddenly she heard footsteps pounding into the room. "Police!" someone called. "Get down on the ground!" Psychotic turned to face the intruders and charged at them with a roar. They opened fire and it was enough to slow her down. Cataclysm was in agony and barely able to see what was happening, but she added a storm of flame to the gunfire from the MARS team. Psychotic wrapped her metal wings around herself and started to back away. They maintained their fire and the villain realized she couldn't win.

Psychotic turned and fled for the stage, snatching up the Lemurian artifact. She tore a hole in the wall and screamed over her shoulder, "This isn't over, Cataclysm. You'll all pay for what you've done to me!" She leapt through the hole, still under fire from the police and Cataclysm, and soared into the air.

"Secure the area," said one of the cops and the others quickly moved through the room to verify it was empty.

Cataclysm felt suddenly dizzy and slumped against the wall. She looked down, confused why her arms were dripping red paint. One of the nearby MARS officers turned to her. "Jesus," he said when he saw the extent of her wounds. "You okay?" he asked, reaching out to steady her. "We better get you to a medic."

Cataclysm curled her lip at him. "Don't touch me," she snarled and then the floor hit her in the face.

"Zoe Loft?" Witchcraft said in surprise, interrupting her healing spell. "Are you sure?"

Cataclysm was sitting on the front bumper of one of the ambulances, having refused care from the EMTs, but was allowing Witchcraft to tend to her. "Not DNA-test sure but," she shrugged and then winced in pain, "yeah, I'm pretty sure."

Witchcraft was stunned. She stammered, "But how...who...when?"

"Yeah, that's about what I said," Cataclysm observed drily.

Witchcraft shook herself back to the immediate situation and resumed the healing spell. "Did she know anyone with access to that kind of technology?"

"Not that I knew of, but I imagine she had her secrets. Probably related to the people who broke her out of prison but we never figured out who they were either."

"The robots will probably give us a clue," Witchcraft said as she finished up. "If we can trace their tech that may lead us to her."

"Finding her won't be the problem," Cataclysm said gloomily. "She'll be back."

"I imagine so," said Witchcraft, studying her. "Are you reluctant to fight her?"

"Reluctant?" Cataclysm asked in surprise. "No. Any loyalty I felt towards her is long gone. Afraid is a better word."

"I didn't think anything scared you," Witchcraft said lightly.

"I didn't either," Cataclysm replied seriously. "But she was...not just strong but crazy. Scary crazy." She shook her head. "I almost didn't beat her." She grimaced and added, "Probably wouldn't have if the idiot cops hadn't shown up." It turned her stomach even to say that. "And with that artifact she'll probably become even more powerful." She stared into the crowd that were watching the scene. "I guess I need to become more powerful myself," she said softly.

"We should resume our lessons," Witchcraft said.

"No," Cataclysm said quickly and forced herself to meet the other woman's eyes. "I think maybe I've gone as far as I can with you." Witchcraft looked surprised and Cataclysm continued. "I should find another teacher."

"Oh," Witchcraft said, trying not to look hurt. "Well, yes, I suppose I can see that. Get a different perspective. I know of a number of good instructors."

Cataclysm shook her head. "No, I already have some ideas about that. I'll figure it out."

The man studied her over his steepled fingers. He was an older man with dark hair and a beard streaked with gray. He was well dressed and the office they were in, located in the back of the Great Beast Bookstore, was tastefully furnished. He sat behind a mahogany desk that held several magical artifacts. "And why are you seeking a new instructor?" he asked, impaling her with his gaze.

Cataclysm met his look without flinching. "I think I've gone as far as I can with my current teacher."

"Witchcraft isn't showing you what you need?" he asked archly.

Cataclysm was surprised but knew she shouldn't be. Everyone knew about her lessons with Witchcraft by now. "Not exactly. Witchcraft is a cop. I need a solider."

He nodded, seeming to accept the answer. "You do understand our techniques are more...direct than what you might have learned."

"I think the word you are looking for is 'lethal'," she said. "That's what I want."

"And you understand there will be a price for our training."

Cataclysm forced herself not to fidget but her insides were twisting. "I don't want to join your little cult," she said sharply. She quickly added, "But yes I realize there will be a price."

The man gave her a cold smile. "We do occasional train those outside of our 'little cult' if they show potential. Those who understand the real value of power. And who have something to offer."

He fell silent, continuing to watch her in that predatory way that was clearly designed to make her uncomfortable. "So?" she snapped. "Do we have a deal?"

"Yes," he said. "I think we can accommodate one another. Come back here, oh, let's say Thursday? Around ten o'clock in the evening. We can get started on your training."

"Fine," Cataclysm said and stood. She left the office, closing the door behind her. The man studied the closed door as another door opened behind him and a figure entered the room. The new man was dressed in a black robe. His lips were stained dark red and what little of his face that showed from behind the low hood was painted with arcane tattoos.

"You think she will serve our purpose?" the man at the desk asked.

"Yes," said the Black Shepherd in a voice like the grave. "Not only will she aid in our ritual but she will not help Witchcraft work against us. It is only a matter of time before the woman discovers the Qliphothic tears and sends someone to investigate."

The seated man made a thoughtful noise. "She will be hard to control," he observed.

"We only need her for a little while," said the Black Shepherd. "She won't live long enough to betray us."

"Yes, I suppose not."