Cover © 2009 Del Borovic
Manga © 2009 Rebecca Gunter


Across the street and parking structure could have only meant one of two places—and once Vex leapt into the taxi, she noticed that only one of them showed up on her mystical radar, lit up like a Christmas tree. The cab’s engine roaring and her heart pumping ice-water, she tried her best to pick a tactical solution for reaching the location. One busy street and seven stories split the difference in distance between her and one terrible rite of ascension.

Evacuees from the recent “fire” in the museum who didn’t want to wait for the Phoenix Fire Department to do their thing had busily set themselves about emptying the parking lot—a fact that certainly would have made finding a parking spot a great deal easier earlier, but now created traffic jam so tight that even a bicycle courier would have a hard time squeezing out of the parking lot.

But little trouble squeezing in.

She pulled the taxi into gear and gunned the gas; the cab responded with a deep- throated roar and jumped the curb, tires screeching as they peeled over asphalt and cement. Curses and surprised shouts followed her as she cut between two escapees angling for the same spot in a line of cars trying to cram themselves into the same exit lane.

The inbound lane all the way up to the PhoenixArt Museumparking structure showed clear, so she used that to her advantage and poured on the acceleration. There was no parking attendant to shout when she crashed the gate, nor many stray people to notice the black and white taxicab cornering at dangerous speeds as it raced recklessly through the levels of the structure.

Two. Screech. Three. Voom. Four. Shreech! Five. Six…

She counted the levels in her head as she passed each marker—and when Vex saw marker seven she double-tapped the accelerator and hammered it down. New life surged into the engine as the turbo-chargers caught on and the engine celebrated the taxi’s past life as a police pursuit cruiser. The world seemed to slip by like a film reel about to fall off its guides—the orange and yellow cement guard rail of the parking structure barreled towards her as she poured on the speed—then, suddenly, nothing, cornflower blue space surrounded her—and the world wrenched back into place with a vision of parking spots and the grey trunks of support columns.

She slammed feet down on the brakes as columns flashed past, the smell of hot oil and cooked rubber poured into the cab along with the angry hiss of the traction control attempting to regain purchase on the cement.

Vex exited the taxi to find Mr. Wannabe Evil Samurai waiting for her standing inside of a glowing circle of power. The outfit had taken on a completely different affect, one far more sinister than she had seen before, the smile on the mask seemed to crinkle back, and the eyes bored holes of darkness filled with a glint of fire. Dragonlike creatures, ribboned and covered in numerous spines writhed like living flames up the flank slats of the armor, drawing ever upward in a stomach turning dance.

Of course, he still wore the same stained sneakers. At least that much hadn’t changed.

The eyes turned towards her as she advanced towards him—brass knuckles snuggly tucked onto her ready fists.

“I’m impressed,” the masked samurai said, “but this ends here.”

Vex squared her shoulders and cracked her neck in a manner she hoped seemed intimidating. “No you’re not,” she said. “You didn’t give me the location of your little ritual because you thought I’d lose.”

The mask cackled, a gloating fury that gurgled with the throats of a thousand demonic voices. “Clever little girl, but I am not that one any longer.”

Vex bared her teeth. “Hentaki Tai.”

“My old name no longer has power; my resurrection is complete,” the samurai growled. “My domination of this new world has just begun!” A gloved finger raised towards her and then beckoned. “Swear to my dominion! My first subject… I have tasted your power and you are strong, gaikokujin.” The beckoning hand curled into a fist. “It would be a shame to destroy you.”

“What is it about guys that you assume girls fall for the ‘I’m mad with power and that makes me sexy’ speech?” she said. “How about this: in exactly two seconds I’m going to make you my bitch.”

“So be it.” The masked demon shogun shouted a word in Japanese and darkness eclipsed the day. Without waiting, Vex broke into a dead sprint putting all of her momentum behind the charge—only to be caught mid-stride by a tenebrous tentacle. It slammed into her like a wrecking ball and flung her across the structure and smashed her against a column. The impact blew her breath out of her—bright spots swam in her eyes as she started weaving defensive wards to blunt the blow of a new impact.

From every direction tentacles sprang from inky night that had fallen all around the parking garage. Columns cracked and the ground shook as they surged towards her. This time the rubber semi-real quality had been replaced by visceral clarity. The monstrous tentacles glinted like black steel, covered in shark-tooth thorns along their entire bulk. Megan’s baby “hentai tentacle monster” had all grown up and wasn’t pulling any punches.

The demoniac samurai laughed his chorus cackle again, throwing his head back, raising the katana overhead, and sank into the ground leaving a purple-black circle of negative-space for a moment that quivered like a mirage before vanishing.

Vex rolled away as another tentacle swung overhead; it shattered the concrete column like peanut brittle as it passed.

“Enough of this shit,” she said and dipped into her own wellspring of power.

An explosive force emanated from her, batting the few nearby tentacles aside like wet ramen noodles—curling and flailing they crunched into the ceiling and floor, cracking the cement and sticking fast by their spines. Having cleared a space to work in, Vex drew the force back into herself and directed it all downwards.

The floor beneath her erupted in fragments of steel and concrete as the magick pulverized a perfect circle into the structure. Down, down, down, she punched holes in the floors as she fell crashing past startled faces, cars, and the odd hummer, until finally she came to rest on the bottommost level along with the masked samurai.

Above, the tentacles poured through the hole like black mud gushing down a drain.

He turned towards her just in time to see her throw herself through the intervening space—angelfire and fists leading the way.

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