Swallow the Moon


eileen_icon.gif mateo_icon.gif

Scene Title Swallow the Moon
Synopsis Mateo's luck runs out.
Date April 24, 2018

Jackson Heights

In the weeks following the theft of food from two major storage facilities, small pop-up markets have appeared more frequently at various hours of the day. Carts and tables set up with food and other odds and ends, people trading what they have outside of the usual regulation and close eye of the Red Hook Market. Nothing outright illegal seems to be for sale, but lots of things otherwise difficult to find.

One man stands in front of a booth, bartering some supplies from the Benchmark for a very specific item. Coffee beans. His wife had one vice she never gave up, and that would be caffeine, and a good husband at least tried to give her some of what she wanted. He’s already carrying a small package of chocolate covered espresso beans packed away in his coat from a previous trade. The vendor scoops some coffee beans into a plastic lined glass jar as he passes across his own barter— a carton of cigarettes that the Benchmark had confiscated at some point from someone who wanted to quit.

The sky had gotten dark. What electricity there was in the buildings around supplied more light than the moon, and some had battery powered lamps sitting on their tables already, too. It would stay open as long as it could, selling and trading what they had. The moon hangs overhead, more full than dark, between two tall buildings, visible in the mostly clear sky, the stars shining in a way they never were able to when the city had been at its peak. With the lessened light pollution, they were more visible than ever before, though still not as visible as in certain parts of the Safe Zone.

“Thank you,” Mateo responds gratefully to the vendor, accepting his jar of unground coffee beans and tucking it away under his arm as he continues on, looking at some of the other makeshift booths. A food truck had been parked not too far away, The Rings of Juniper, the painting on it read, and a red haired woman with a bright smile sold pastries to those who wandered by, wrapped in wax paper so they could eat and shop at the same time. He considered stopping there before he finally headed back to Red Hook—

His wife had always had a sweet tooth to go with her coffee desired.

The sound of rustling wings draws Mateo’s attention. When he raises his eyes in search of its source, he spies a large raven perched on the gutted remains of a telephone pole across the street. On any other night, it might be difficult for him to see, but tonight its feathers shine opalescent under the moon’s inviting glow.

The bird is white.

One milky blue eye turns to regard the man below and Mateo experiences a sudden sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach. He feels like he’s plummeting.

His vision swims. For a moment, he might even mistake the blood pounding in his ears for the influence of someone else’s ability; all it takes to dispel his lightheadedness, however, is a long, slow, deep breath.

At the same time, he becomes aware that he’s being watched by more eyes than just the one the raven has fixed on him. A familiar presence crowds his periphery, and he knows who it is before his instincts are steering him in that direction. Visible through the stream of people carving both ways up and down the open street is a woman dressed in black. A wool coat fits snug against her body, emphasizing the narrow width of her shoulders, compact torso, and long, slender legs.

Eileen Ruskin’s silhouette is unmistakable.

She studies him from across the distance between them, gloved hands in the pocket of her coat and chin at a high angle, aloof and almost catlike in her assessment of him. A tigress uses the tall grass to conceal her approach; the ex-Vanguard operative has appropriated the density of the crowd in a similar fashion, and now she’s close enough to strike.

Her mouth forms a smile, first, followed by a word he cannot hear but reads easily enough on her lips: “Hati.

The feeling doesn’t completely fade with the long inhale. It remains there in the subtle thump of a thousand little heartbeats. The ability in his head always sounds different from each moment to moment, but for the moment it seems to sound like the beating of little hearts all at once, fast and focused and almost drowning out the thud of his own pulse in his ears as he meets that white bird’s eye, as his eyes scan the crowd until he sees a silhouette he remembers all too well.

That heartbeat plummets, catching in his throat in a lump that he can’t swallow or cough up. Her lips form a word he’s dreaded since he left Argentina, a name that he had wanted behind him. A name he had shared recently with those he trusted. But this woman. She was supposed to be dead. The books had said so, the news had said so. Everything he knew had said so.

“Munin,” he mouths back, whispered under his breath, even as he takes a step backward and runs into someone who lets out a loud and annoyed complaint that he doesn’t hear over everything else crashing together in his mind. He can almost feel the klaxons firing, everything in his being tells him to run, but he hesitates.

Because last he’d heard she had been working with the Ferry before she ‘died’. Had been working with his own wife. Even if some of the news articles and books he’d read while scouring for information on himself had said she had been the one who betrayed the Ferry.

There’s something about the way he stands, though, that looks like a wolf that wants to run, could bolt at any moment.

There’s a price for his indecision. As people pass, Mateo’s view of Eileen flickers, obscured between flashes of skin, textured fabric, or a flip of somebody else’s hair. He does not see her dominant hand retreat into her coat until it’s too late and the moonlight illuminates the barrel of her pistol with the same precision as the raven’s back.

Another bird, identical to the first, flutters into view and catches its claws on the lip of an adjacent building. He might look if the weapon in the Englishwoman’s grip wasn’t the more immediate concern.

He feels the bullet strike his shoulder before the crack of the pistol reaches his ears and disperses the crowd in every direction like a flock of scattered birds or a divided school of fish shimmying away. Pain erupts beneath his collarbone, and there’s a wet warmth clinging to his skin and the fabric of his clothes that wasn’t there before.

He tastes blood in his mouth. His.

The report of the weapon causes people to run, but it takes a few seconds for Mateo to even realize what’s happened. It’s been years since he’d been in this kind of situation, and even a small scuffle or two down in Mexico had not prepared him for the way his body recoiled from the bullet, the sound that mixed with other sounds that were not actually there— nor the way that he felt when he parted his lips and tasted the blood.

Dark eyes widen, and the arm not on the side he’d been shot on raises, as if he might try to be making a stop gesture. But instead the lights flicker. The electric lamps, the electric lines in the street and buildings, all of it feels a sudden pull. It draws it out in large enough numbers and slams all that energy into a single point in space right in front of him. For a second, the wind picks up, like all the air trying to rush out into that tiny little spot— but then it slicks over, like circular gateway rippling with blackness, like oil-slicked water, framed by a ring of tight lightning.

Behind her, to the north, a second hole appears just at the edge of his vision on a rooftop balcony, widening, spinning, taking on the same sleek form that neither of them can see through. That one pulls even more electricity— putting a further strain on the vulnerable power grid. And then he steps through it and appears where the second one had been, gripping the rail with an arm that has blood running down it, wanting to cough, but not knowing yet if he’s safe— he glances back in the direction he’d just come from, to check—

Eileen erupts out of the portal behind Mateo in a thunderous crackle of sparks. Her coat billows open, giving her the appearance of a great black bird in the instant before she hits the ground and surges after him in one smooth motion. Electricity, the energy swirling around them, and something else makes her hair float, dark curls suspended in the air around her face.

Up close, he picks out details that his mind may or may not decide are important later: her painted mouth showing teeth around a feral snarl, blue eyes flashing, and the smooth porcelain curves of her bare feet. She must have kicked off her heels before following him into the breach, which he thinks makes sense.

You can’t chase someone in stilettos.

“Hold still, Ruiz,” she very nearly purrs in the instant before the pounce. “I’ll make it quick.”

That had not been the most well planned out escape. Behind her the electricity collapses in on itself in a flash, redistributing in the air in a way that makes static rise up. Mateo has few directions to go, so he goes the one he thinks she’s least likely to follow— over the rail and off the side of the building.

A portal opens below him, drawing more electricity from the power grid, even more strain on the system, he falls through it and lands with a grunt down the street through a second one he’d opened much closer to the ground, making the fall an equivalent of a story as opposed to— well— six. He doesn’t wait to start running, this time, because he expects her to be not far behind, cause he’s not sure he can close them as quickly as he can open them—

She’ll have a few seconds before it flickers out— and she’d already been pouncing.

Everything hurts, from his feet to his knees, to the growing warmth on his chest— but everything in him tells him if he doesn’t run, he won’t even get the chance to explain anything.

By her reputation, this doesn’t even surprise him.

Eileen is relentless. She lands in a crouch a few feet away from where Mateo had been just moments before, body held low to the ground to avoid taking off her head as the last portal snaps out of existence. People are banging about in the apartments around them, scrambling to find candles and means by which to light them, whether matches or handheld lighters hidden away in drawers or pockets belonging to smokers.

Shouts rise in the night, in English, in Spanish, in languages neither Mateo nor Eileen recognize. The New York Safe Zone is an international melting pot of more cultures than they can name, and all of them within earshot are demanding to know why the power is out and people are still screaming back in the open air market that Mateo and his pursuer have already left behind.

Eileen’s ravens, even with the advantage of flight, are slower to catch up. One slices through a nearby alley, winging past dumpsters and old, drooping power lines that no longer carry any charge. The other climbs higher into the sky in search of a better vantage point from which to see.

If she raised her pistol and fired off another shot, she might hit him.

She also might miss, and Eileen is apparently not willing to risk drawing more attention to herself than she already has. Her bare feet carry her after Mateo at a lope, then a sprint. His legs are longer than hers, so she must move twice as fast to keep up with him, even if his gait has begun to wobble.

“Don’t believe in fresh starts!” she calls after her quarry, voice much closer than Mateo would probably like. He can hear her feet splashing through puddles and slapping against the concrete.

She’s already gaining on him.

Mateo rounds the corner and the street opens up in front of him as a motorcyclist swerves to avoid a collision, leaving skid-marks on the pavement and the residual echoes of a blaring horn and shouted curse. Even in the dark, he can make out the familiar arch and brick facade of Raytech’s New York City branch less than two hundred feet ahead.

The gates are closed.

Closed gates don’t stop a portal when Mateo can see through them. The next two portals take longer to film, due to the loss of power, but they still form. One right at the gate, sending a small flicker of electricity through it, the second on the other side. He could just see the lobby door, though not through it enough to make it inside the building itself. It pulls on the backup power that Raytech has, allowing him to pass through and slam into the glass door, like a bird might cause he’d made it far closer than he should have and ran through too fast.

His momentum didn’t change in transit. The door’s not locked, or if it had been the power surges seem to have unlocked it. The gate should have been enough to keep unwanted guests out, normally. Once he pushes it open, he calls out, before falling to his knees. He doesn’t think he’s going to get back up right away, as those portals flicker and flash and fade away into the new darkness.

He’s slipping.

Gravity pulls him the rest of the way to the floor, and when Mateo reaches out to brace a hand against it in an attempt to push himself back up to his knees, blood squeaks under his palm.

He goes down.

On the other side of the gate, shrouded in natural shadows, Eileen’s shape prowls the perimeter of the building, looking for a way up or over.

There are, of course, none — and it is with grudging reluctance that she’s forced to abandon her pursuit of Mateo, leaving him to the relative safety of Raytech’s blackened lobby even as his blood is emptying out onto its pristine marble floors.

She’ll be gone before the first of the on site responders arrives, but Mateo knows better than to assume this is over. Like any wounded animal, he’ll have to emerge from his hidey-hole.


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