The Twisting Terror

	It was an average night in Sillingor. That is to say, it was no smellier than normal. It was no smoggier than normal. It was average, meaning that something terrible was bound to happen. The worst will always happen when it is least expected, and this was the kind of night where nothing seemed likely to happen. Nobody expected a thing.
	“Will he live?” said Caspian Janson, fumbling with his cigarettes while he waited for a reply.
	“Hard to say, Crisp. He looks like the other two, and one of them has already croaked,” the doctor said, still crouching.
	“Same symptoms?”
	The doctor nodded. “Exactly the same. I can’t make head nor tail of it. It’s nothing that I’ve seen before. Well, until the first one turned up.”
	“Come on, Lashes, you must have something.”
	“We’ll see when we get him back,” the younger man said, standing up from the writhing body before them. It was all the menials had been able to do to get the man on a stretcher. He closed his eyes for a few moments and opened them, batting the long lashes that were his namesake amongst his friends. Dr Larry Grey was not overly fond of that name, but he was too focused on the mystery in front of him to notice much.
	“It’s over to you then,” Caspian said, nodding to the waiting medicals. After the ambulance left, the alley was deathly quiet. Caspian struck a match and lit up, taking a deep breath. He felt his muscles relax with a sigh.
	“Where to from here?”
	Larry shrugged. “We talk to the chief, tell him what’s what. Not much we can do, until the perp gives us a bit more to go on.”
	“Something tells me I don’t want to meet this guy,” Caspian said, kicking an empty can across the street. It clattered, shattering the silence briefly.
	“I hear you there.”
	Back at the station, Chief Bobby Balcora listened to everything they said and nodded slowly. He took another drag before speaking. “Doc, what do you think about Unnens?”
	Larry paled a little. “It’s possible, chief. I don’t like the idea of an Unnen being involved, but there’s nothing else going on. We might as well assume that’s what’s happening. The first one died last night, after all.”
	The chief sighed. “We might as well try our luck with a seeker. Crisp, who was the last one we used?”
	“Jacobson, sir.”
	“Well call him in, or whoever is available at a reasonable rate. I want someone with results. That’s your job for now, Crisp. Doc, see if the body from last night can help us save the other victims. Give me something at least, lads. Got that?”
	“Yes boss,” they chimed.
	Unknown to the three of them, and in fact the entire force, Stefan Jacobson had been eaten alive two weeks earlier. Seekers were very hard to keep tabs on, after all. It was frequently a solitary profession, and for good reason. Most were cracked, or barely one step ahead of death, or fearless to the point of recklessness. It just so happened that the seeker they DID hire was a combination of these.
	There were two main types of people that tended to populate Sillingor PD headquarters. The officers, in their sleek black uniforms toting a revolver at one hip and a rapier at the other, made up the majority. The others were civvies. Their dress was about expected. Dresses and pantsuits for the women, jackets, trousers and bow ties for the men. That was the norm for Sillingor.
	Thus when the seeker entered, it was understandable that all eyes were drawn to their stride across the station floor. Leather boots, made for running and worn with use, melded into leggings of the same, secured with a tight belt. The large, thick jacket that billowed slightly behind the seeker made it impossible to see anything of the belt, save for the symbol of a snake eye at its clasp. The shirt beneath was black, which was unusual for the fashion of the day, and from the seeker’s neck hung a silver-coloured amulet with a sapphire at its centre. The seeker was identifiably a woman, but her face was shrouded with a broad-brimmed hat, facemask and goggles. The seeker’s boots, belt and gauntlets clinked softly as she walked, which in turn drew more eyes than before. As the seeker came to the front counter, the ambient noise of the room seemed to hush as the clerk asked her name.
	“I am Elspeth Morcaya. I believe you have been expecting me.”
	The clerk stumbled over his words and shakily gestured behind him to the lift. “The chief’s on the fourth floor.”
	“I’ll take the stairs,” she said, and strode away, leaving gawks and whispers in her wake.
	Moments later the seeker sat at the desk of one Chief Bobby Balcora, who was doing his best not to seem intimidated. He stood and took a deep breath, then placed his hands on the table before him. “Have you seen the newspapers, recently?” he asked. The seeker inclined her head. “They’re calling this thing the ‘Twisting Terror’, because the victims do nothing but repeat the word ‘twisting’, over and over. They’ve gone cracked, and we’re at a loss. We need you to take a look at it. We can pay your standard fee,” he said, looking over at the impassive seeker. She slowly reached up and pulled her goggles to her forehead, just beneath her hat. A pair of striking pale yellow eyes met his gaze.
	“Twisting Terror?” she asked.
	The chief nodded. “It’s already attacked three, and one of them died the night before last. We can’t make sense of it. We reckon it might be an Unnen. This is what we have on it so far,” he said, pushing a case file that read ‘CONFIDENTIAL – CASE IN PROGRESS’ in red ink across its front. The seeker flicked through the file, scanning quickly with those unnerving yellow eyes.”
	“What do you want with it?” the seeker said, closing the case file and pushing it forward in a single motion. The chief looked at her with confusion. “Dead? Alive? Do you arrest ‘Unnens’?” she said, punctuating the last word with air quotes.
	“We’ll leave that up to you. If it’s a person, we can handle them alive. If it’s really an Unnen… deal with it however you know best. We just want it gone. The mayor is going to be inaugurated soon, and the attacks have all been within a three-block radius of City Hall. I don’t like that kind of pattern.”
	“I see.”
	“I have one proviso. I’m sending a sergeant with you.”
	The yellow eyes narrowed dangerously. “I work alone.”
	“Not for this one you don’t. We can’t have you running off and doing all kinds of mischief. I know the kind of collateral damage your kind cause. Sergeant Janson is your partner for this.”
	“Can you afford to have Sergeant Janson killed?” the seeker asked, flatly.
	The chief’s eyes widened. “What is that supposed to mean?”
	“He might end up dead if he comes with me. That is because I might end up dead. I know what I’m doing, though. He doesn’t.”
	“My word is final,” the chief said, sitting down and clasping his hands on the table in front of him.
	“Very well,” the seeker said. She refastened her goggles, walking out of the room with a soft swish of her jacket. Outside she met Caspian for the first time. He had been waiting for her.
	“Pleased to meet you, Ms. Morcaya,” he said, holding his hand out to her as and matching her stride. She glanced to the side ever so slightly before looking ahead. “My name is Elspeth. I’m assuming you are Sergeant Janson.”
	“You can call me Crisp, everyone does,” he said, trying to make his smile ingratiating. It was infuriating for the seeker.
	“You might be extra crispy once you’re done working with me,” she said. “Ever seen an Unnen?” she said. Now he was following her down the stairs.
	“Twice. Nasty buggers they are. Not natural. Best off in the ground.”
	“Remember this, Crispy,” she said. He corrected her with ‘Crisp’. She ignored him and continued. “You are expendable for this mission. All that matters is our target. You would be better off staying here.”
	“Orders are orders, Elspeth. We’re stuck together.”
	“I won’t tell if you don’t,” she said, but there was no humour in her voice.
	“I’m seeing this through.”
	“I won’t be held responsible for you. If anything, the chief wants you responsible for me,” she said, as they exited the station.
	“Yeah, doesn’t want you to go round kicking down doors and the like. That’s police business.”
	The seeker stopped and turned to the officer, holding her finger right at his eyes as she brought her face close to his. “Listen here. What we’re going to face is no gangster. It’s no mobster, robber, kidnapper or thug. It’s something else entirely. If we fail, more people die. I do whatever I have to, and if you get in the way then that’s not my problem. It would be more conducive to your good health to let me do my job,” she said, then turned to walk out through the streets of Sillingor.
	“Now just a moment, ma’am.”
	“Elspeth,” she snapped, barrelling past his objections. “My word is final. Now shut it so I can do my job.” With that, she turned to the nearest building and began to climb a ladder.
	“Where are you–” Crisp started.
	“What did I just say?” she said, not even stopping. Crisp said something ungentlemanly under his breath and began to climb after her. They soon emerged upon the rooftops of Sillingor, the city smothered in a haze of smog that crept lazily across the skyline. “Tie this ‘round your mouth,” the seeker snapped, her eyes fixed ahead. Her hand shot out and passed Crisp a measure of cloth.
	“It smells awful,” he said.
	“Do as I say.” Crisp turned his nose up but tied the fabric around his mouth. It had the smell of a chemical kind of cleanliness… like bleach and turps. He coughed a few times but followed the seeker. She reached for her belt and pulled out a small compass, turning her head this way and that. They walked across the rooftops for half an hour before the seeker began to climb down again. As they reached the streets, Crisp caught the faintest smell of sulphur, and his hair began to stand up. They had climbed into a dead-end alley, and from further up they could hear a faint clicking on the flagstones. At this point the seeker pulled out two small pieces of what looked like tubing and fitted them together, as well as the stock of a musket. In a few moments she had a longmusket assembled in her hands, loading it with a red cartridge. Crisp pulled out his revolver as they drew closer.
	The clicking on stone became louder, and more agitated, before a scream sounded above it. Crisp jumped at the sound, but the seeker didn’t seem at all surprised. The scream died away to a wail and the clicking sped up. They rounded another corner to see a teeming mass of arms, like those of an octopus, but perhaps twice as many. Instead of fleshy, though, they were scaled. Instead of having suckers, they seemed smooth. Where they touched the ground, though, they clicked hard against the stone as if they themselves were made of the same material. It paced agitatedly in the midst of the alley and Crisp could just make out something that looked like a mass of fur at its centre, with what looked like four crab arms emerging. They were holding something…
	The creature froze, as did Crisp, looking down at the puddle he had trodden in. The seeker swore, and the beast wheeled around, dropping something heavy. Now Crisp had the view that he had wanted.
	Eighteen arms spiralled out of a central mass of teeth, framed by four claws. It wasn’t hair that he had seen, but long, thin spikes. The centre was kept aloft of the ground through its arms, which seemed to double as legs. Saliva dripped from the mouth. The whole creature was grey… or black. Maybe dark green or dark blue… it was hard to see in the light. Then Crisp realised that the colour was constantly changing, shifting. The worst thing, though, was the eyes. A cluster of black eyes between each of the arms, near the mouth, were the only places on the body without spikes. When those eyes met his, Crisp couldn’t move.
	A rolling series of clicks sounded as the beast moved forward faster than Crisp would have thought possible. He tried to look at the seeker out of the corner of his vision, but she wasn’t there. As it drew close to him, the sulphur smell became stronger. Those terrible claws reached out to Crisp and he closed his eyes, feeling sure he was done for…
	The shot rang out through the night, through Crisp’s ears, and caused the beast to double up with a shiver. A shimmer of red colour flowed through it and the creature was stopped in its tracks. It reached forward with one of its arms, even as the eyes darted around frantically for the source of the shot.
	BLAM. Another shimmer of red flowed through the beast, before an explosion ruptured through the front of its body. If Crisp had been able to look around, he would have noticed that the shot had struck squarely between the protrusion of the mouth and the body, where they joined together. The force of the explosion shattered windows nearby and threw some of the weaker doors off their hinges. Crisp was knocked from his feet. He instinctively tried to curl up but was sent sprawling. As he lay there for a brief moment, looking up, a flash of movement passed him. He sat up in time to see the seeker pull back her arm before the roiling beast. As it roared, she tossed something glowing into its maw, which immediately disappeared.
        A cluster of arms swung in her direction but she leapt deftly to the side, springing from the side of the building as a deeper rumble shivered through the creature. Its arms struck the building, bricks and mortar crumbling into the alley. Crisp struggled to get to his feet, searching for his revolver. He snatched a look up and saw the seeker had now pushed herself from the far side of the street, further up the building. Crisp watched dumbstruck as she fell towards the beast’s maw, holding nothing but a lance. He didn’t know where she’d pulled a lance from. The lance entered the beast’s mouth and continued travelling. It seemed as though the seeker was about to fall into its maw too, but the lance stopped dead with an almighty CRACK. The seeker swung her foot onto the handle as it fell and pushed herself off, rolling to her feet as she landed. Past her, Crisp could see the monster slump to the ground, its arms flopping down uselessly. She stood over Crisp as he lay on the street and held her hand out.
        “Master seeker Elspeth Morcaya, at your service.”

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