Though the strobing effect of Strider’s teleport could be disorienting, you couldn’t say it wasn’t just about the most overpowered ability we had. Aside from its offensive potential, the speed of travel was frankly insane. Even assuming that the continental force field had not a problem to get through, any other group of would-be assassins might have had to spend days, if not weeks, working their way across the length of the continent, braving god knows how many dangers, between untamed wilderness, roving bandits, superhuman warlords and soldiers, etc.
Thanks to Strider’s power, we skipped right past all of it. By the time even those with super speed or enhanced senses even knew we were in an area, we were already miles away. It took hundreds of jumps, and I had to close my eyes as the environments flickered by in a high-speed blur, but it was still shorter than the trip through the ground had been. Considerably less hellish on the body, at that. We had had to go even deeper than when we went to Madagascar, and I was worried for a moment that Hitchhiker and I might not make it. But we managed, and after we were allowed a minute to rest, Strider took off again, bee-lining towards our first target.
Strider brought us right into the Eater of Souls’ city. Kilika had opted to take Nairobi as her capital, and presently, her “castle” was the Times Tower, a former banking office. Kilika had converted the top floor into a luxury suite.
Lucky me, it was my job to go after Kilika herself. From how her power worked, the ability to kill with just a glance, it was possible she was one of the few people on Earth who could actually end me. Strider wasn’t entirely sure how her abilities worked or what their limits were—most of the Queens had not trusted one another enough to confide such things in each other—but she highly doubted Hitchhiker would be any safer during a possession. Besides, I was the only one who could hide the device within my person to best avoid its detection. As I went after Kilika, Hitchhiker would be going after Ojau.
Strider got me as close as she could, dropping me off into the basement of an apartment building within the still-functioning part of the city. This was, she said, the living quarters for some of the nobility’s human servants.
Presently, I was in the form of a tall black man in a dark red outfit, rougher in appearance than my last body. Strider had recommended the change to better blend in with the populace. English was one of the official languages here as well, but she recommended I not speak unless I absolutely had to. Everyone would immediately know I wasn’t a local.
Fortunately, as I made my way up the stairs, I only passed a few people, and they were much more concerned with their own business. I followed the stairs and reached the roof access, using skin threads to pick the lock.
As I came outside, I blinked in the light of the Great Shield, as they called it. It cast a strange pinkish hue over the land, as if I were wearing rose tinted sun glasses.
As I stepped up towards the edge of the building, I started shedding my clothes. Years ago, I had practiced altering my form to match that of various animals, and I still remembered some of what I had learned about taking the form of birds. The mind control device inside me was about six inches long and cylindrical, rounded off at the ends, with a single button in the middle and three LED lights on one end. I’m sure Max would have described it as looking like a high-tech dildo.
It was not very heavy, but I would need a form large enough to carry it in my chest cavity without looking too obviously out of place in the city. I opted to just go for a hawk, perhaps larger than normal, but I had the feeling most of the people carrying on their business were not especially concerned with something flying through the sky if it wasn’t shaped like a person.
After a few minutes of shedding flesh and reshaping what was left, I flapped my wings experimentally. It had been a while since I’d flown, but as I hopped about and worked my feathered limbs, I felt it all coming back to me. I thrust myself onto the ledge of the building and pushed myself off. Catching the wind beneath me, I soared over to the gray tower just a block away. In the light of the Great Shield, the gray concrete sides and columns of reflective windows seemed to glow a pale pink, but it was otherwise exactly how Strider described. The third tallest building in the city, the Times Tower had mainly served as a bank office, but Kilika had declared it her home. The top floor had been converted to a large luxury suite, and her servants and harem lived in the floors below. Most of the Tower was otherwise empty, save for her personal guard.
As I soared onto the rooftop, I saw some guards, men with sniper rifles patrolling the edges of the building. I wasn’t sure who they expected to attack the building; surely anyone dumb or brave enough to attack the Eater of Souls would be a superhuman unlikely to be harmed by something as mundane as bullets. Perhaps their only real purpose was as watchful eyes; more useful than their guns would be their walkie-talkies.
I landed on the entrance to the stairwell, the door to which had been propped open, either due to laziness, or some idiot forgetting a key. A few of the guards glanced at me, but I did my best to replicate the jerky movements and head turns of a normal bird. One man cocked an eyebrow at me, then raised his rifle and aimed.
I made a squawking sound, pretending to not recognize the threat. Another man spoke to him in, but I didn’t catch what he said. The man slowly lowered his rifle. I felt a bit of relief. He’d been smart enough to recognize that a sizeable hawk being in the city could in fact be a superhuman in disguise, but dumb enough to let my clumsy attempt at avian acting fool him.
I sprouted a few extra eyes just under my feathers to peek around me. I was glad I did, because I managed to catch another guard taking aim behind me just before he pulled the trigger. I had to time this just right to—
I jerked my body down as fast as I could, and let the bullet hit my neck. I let my head fall off, as though the projectile had sheered it, forcing my bird-skull to explode in gore and feathers. I let my body drop to the ground and flap wildly. The other men made exclamations, and some laughed as they saw me comically jump around, wings batting wildly. I think a few said something about a free dinner.
This all worked perfectly to my advantage, however, as I managed to jump in such a way as to throw my headless body backwards, into the open door. It was open just enough that I could slip through, and let my body tumble down the stairs. One of the men cursed, and started running towards the door after me.
By that point, however, I was already shedding the bird form, filling in its mass with formless muscle and ejecting my core like a cut tumor. As the bird-like body fell lifeless to the ground, just like a real dead hawk, the core of meat I spat out of it formed a body that was little more than a flesh sheath around the device. Quickly, I sprouted six spider legs from the sides, two eyestalks in the front, and two prehensile tendrils off the back. I skittered down the stairwell and used a tendril to open the first door I saw, fast enough that the guard pursuing my bird suit didn’t see me.
I found myself in a long, dark hallway, leading to two chambers. Changing my body’s colors to match the environment, I scuttled along towards one end, where some dim light was showing.
Peeking around the corner with one eyestalk, I saw a wide room with a huge circular bed in the middle. All around the room were naked bodies, sixteen in total. Ten of them were women, including the slim, slightly older woman with dreadlocks lying sprawled across the middle of the bed, a man on either side of her. Clothing and wine bottles were scattered about the room.
It was around six in the morning in this part of the world right now, but the Queens liked to party hard and sleep in, according to Strider. If I was lucky, I could get the drop on her while she was still asleep.
I sent a web of skin threads out into the room, while sprouting more eyestalks behind me to keep an eye on the door. Thankfully, none of the guards followed me through it. As my threads made contact with the bodies in the large room, I discovered three of them were dead. Most of them were also awake, but lying still. I could sense the fear chemicals in them. No doubt they were terrified of waking their mistress too early.
The woman in the middle of the bed, however, I couldn’t get a read on. My skin thread grazed her, but her body resisted my ability to scan it. Normally I could still scan those whose flesh I couldn’t manipulate, but there had been a superhuman or two who had some passive ability that blinded my senses. I wouldn’t put it past someone with “death powers” to have such an effect. I could surmise that this was my target.
Kilika, the Eater of Souls, sound asleep. Strider had mentioned that every time she killed, it boosted her physicality, though it was only by a little bit at a time. Otherwise, she probably already started off in the Class 2 level of durability. Given how she resisted my attempt to stick a needle in and paralyze her, I would say that was the case. I would have to sneak inside.
I quickly grew out my form, returning to the tall, naked man I had been a few minutes ago. In this case, a lack of clothes was actually perfect as a disguise. I crept into the room, stepping lightly over the bodies. Now that I had a nose again, the room reeked of sex and booze, and I wrinkled my nose, cutting some of my sense of smell so it wouldn’t be so distracting. Just as I neared the bed, however, one of the women reached out and put a hand on my foot. I glanced down at her; her eyes were wide with terror.
“What are you doing?” she mouthed in English.
I knocked her out with a command to her nerves. I had disconnected and dissolved my previous skin threads, but I spread out new ones, with the intent to put the group around me to sleep. I just needed to touch the device to Kilika’s head. From where I stood to where her head was lying on the pillow, I only had to cover about fifteen feet. I could snap a tendril out touch her head with the device right now, and just make sure her little harem didn’t alert anybody.
I positioned the device, which I had been holding in a sheath in my gut, ready to fire it out on a line. Right, then, however, Kilika’s eyes fluttered open.
However, instead of immediately focusing on me, she yawned, squeezing her eyes shut and stretching. I ducked down quickly, lying on the floor. I hastily commanded all the others I’d just put to sleep to wake back up, and withdrew all the skin threads. A few people had already been slow to rouse, however, so I let them be. I prayed that the booze had clouded everyone’s memories enough, and that Kilika, who so casually killed off her own servants, wouldn’t recognize me as a stranger among the crowd.
Everyone started to rise as Kilika sat up. The two men to her side immediately rolled off, and went to fetch something. The servants around me started picking up clothing and bottles, but no one bothered getting dressed. I busied myself with doing the same. Everyone was so focused on their mistress and their clean up tasks, that they didn’t even notice me. I kept myself behind the woman who had grabbed me and kept my head down.
Kilika slid off the bed and stood tall, stretching once more. She had that lazy smile of a very well satisfied woman. The two men, one larger and more muscular, the other slimmer, but fit, approached their mistress with her clothing. The lean man held up a dark navy cloak, while the larger man held aloft a wildebeest skull, with gilded horns.
Kilika raised her hand. “I would bathe first,” she said. She waved to the three women closest to her, one of whom was swaying a bit on her feet. “You three.” Two of the women nodded quickly, setting their clothes down. The third woman, the one in the middle, started to nod, but then clapped a hand over her mouth. She let out a short moan.
Almost all of the servants’ eyes widened in horror. The servant between the swaying woman and Kilika tried to move her colleague to the side, but she wasn’t fast enough. The unsteady woman bent over and vomited, a foul liquid splattering on the floor. The puddle spread far enough to touch the toes of Kilika’s left foot.
The Eater of Souls didn’t recoil from the mess. I’m sure she had encountered far, far worse in her life time, and she had an image of control to maintain. She simply cocked an eyebrow at the offender. The sick woman stiffened for a moment, then pitched forward, stone dead. I didn’t even need to touch her to sense it. Her breathing, her heartbeat, just stopped at once.
A moment later, the body defecated as her muscles relaxed, and the stench of human waste filled the room. Several of the servants flinched, but most just stared in horror. I followed suit.
Kilika sighed. “And this is why you are to clean yourselves out before I summon you.” She lifted her foot and wiped the bit of puke on her toes onto the dead woman’s back. She then glanced around the room, then pointed at me. “You. Take her place. The rest of you clean up this filth.”
She walked out of the room, the two trembling women on either side of the corpse hurrying after her. I hastily stepped in line, acting equally as terrified. Even as I did so, I shifted the device, preparing to fire it at her the moment I was sure her guard was down, and that none of the other servants could interfere.
We went back down the darkened hallway, and entered a brightly lit bathroom. It was a large, white-tiled room with a huge bathtub that could easily double as a hot-tub. This had clearly been built after she had moved in; I couldn’t imagine the bankers that had once occupied this building installing such a luxurious bathing facility.
The Queen waited patiently as her two female servants drew the bath and collected the soap and washcloths from the cabinet in the corner. I moved to grab something as well, but Kilika turned and shoved me against the wall.
The two women jumped at this action, but continued their work. Kilika, meanwhile, pressed her naked body against mine. She reached down and cupped my genitals, squeezing them none-too-gently. She grinned up at me.
“You’ve quite a fascinating soul,” she said. “The edges are all washed out and frayed. I don’t recall ever seeing anything like it before. Especially not last night.”
I said nothing, looking terrified. I shifted my internal organs to prepare the device.
“The only reason you’re not dead right now is that I’m just bored enough to wonder what this is,” she said. “An assassination attempt? You’ll be dead before you can twitch your finger, and you’ll find death is not a hindrance to me. Or are you hoping to impress me with some sort of power display? Fresh from the Doorway and hoping to immediately get in the graces of a Queen?”
I said nothing. I adjusted my body, pushing my nerves and blood flow and winding my body up for one fast strike. I swallowed to mask that I was shifting to device into my skull.
She frowned at my silence. “You have three seconds to answer,” she said. “One… two…”
With the speed of a snake strike, my skull split open and shot the device four inches forward, touching her forehead. I flexed the sheath holding it to press the button as it made contact. I braced myself for oblivion.
But it never came. Instead, Kilika stared at me, her lips slightly parted, her eyes glassy. I realized she wasn’t staring at me, but past me, into her own memories. Her body shivered.
The two women had only been half paying attention, trusting their mistress to deal with the problem, and knowing she would be displeased if they weren’t ready to attend her afterwards. By the time it registered that my skull had split open and I had thrust something against their mistress’s face, I was already whipping out thin tendrils and putting the two to sleep with a touch.
Kilika blinked with sudden awareness, her eyes refocusing. She stepped back and stared at me with an unreadable expression. I molded my head back to a human shape, and said, “Do you remember?”
“Yes,” she said flatly.
“Do you obey?”
I let out a long exhalation of relief. I realized I was sweating. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d done that.
“Alright,” I said. “Then follow me.”