London, December 11th, 2009

Having fun on Friday evenings used to be the lot of normal people with normal lives. Echoes was neither the first, nor had the latter.

Warning – Entropic wave detected – x=45/y=21/z=200

A new alarm rang on his Smartphone; with a quick glance at its lit screen to check the coordinates it displayed, the tall, lanky young man dove between the nearest two stone ornaments in front of the HSBC skyscraper, dodging by an inch the gust of wind that passed him by.

Something thick and heavy brushed past his head, ripping his navy blue wool cap, cutting a few strands of his unruly shoulder-length blond hair. He couldn’t see if it was an arm or a weapon, for it had no definite shape, no definite colour, no definite substance. When the invisible blow sliced in two the heavy grey stone, though, he decided that whatever it was, he had better go on running.

Once again, a small part of his mind wondered what the hell that thing was, while another kept focused on his changing surroundings, and another yet on evading further attacks. If his calculations were right, he had ten seconds left before the next wave gathered enough momentum to strike, ten seconds to hurry down Upper Bank Street and its office buildings now deserted for the night.

It would have been easier if he had been able to see his opponent, and not only vaguely sense its presence, alerted to it only by the resident watchdog application he kept running at all times on his phone. Easier, too, if he had had the time to reach for Grendel, his laptop, still safely tucked within its holding case, strapped over his shoulder. Right now, there was no time to take it out and run a real defence program. Working without Gren also meant he couldn’t compute all the calculations needed to ride vectors, which was the sole reason why the Technomancer hadn’t warped his way out of Canary Wharf yet.

He also needed someone or something else to distract his newfound enemy, thus giving him a few more precious seconds to strike. For now, he must at least take said enemy far from the Mundanes, from all those unknowing minds exiting one or other of the dining places still open in the district.

Echoes allowed himself three seconds to catch his breath, then dashed towards the part of the street that crossed the canal, leading towards the northern bank. He had planned to ride the 10:48 Tube from Canary Wharf station, but such plans had been thwarted by the first alarm; he had left the station way too far behind him, in his haste to lead his newfound enemy away from any potential victims. Maybe if he could lure it towards another direction, and reach the light railway station at Poplar…

Nope. Too dangerous for the Mundanes. And I won’t have time if I don’t ‘port!

That was bad, real bad; unused to strenuous exercise, he would not keep up for very long, his lungs already burning with every breath he took in the cold winter air. He had to find a place to hide and retaliate, rather than just avoid blow after blow.

Warning – Entropic wave detected – x=48/y=39/z=202
Shit! It’s faster than—

The indefinite shape rose in front of him, not behind as he had anticipated; all he could do was change his course by a few degrees and dodge part of the incoming blow, instead of having it catch him square in the chest. That brief, faint contact with the tip of his collarbone was enough to make him lose his balance. Pain shot through his body, almost preventing him from outstretching a hand to break his fall. He ended up on his knees, raked by a fit of coughing, one hand still clenched around his phone, supporting himself with the other.

The metallic taste in his mouth left no doubt: another attack of that kind would do more than just make him stumble.

Obeying reflexes etched in him by years of experience, his mind and eyes had already started making notes of the changes in space around him. The cold, wet pavement; the lights from the street lamps lining the bridge he had managed to reach; the rumbling engine of a car coming from behind him, not slowing down, its driver not paying attention the least bit to the shadowed silhouette curled on the pedestrian gateway behind the white arches. Whatever had decided to tear him to shreds, Echoes had to face it alone, or die.

A new warning popped on the phone’s screen. He slid his thumb over it to reach for another series of icons, until he found the one he was looking for. It was far from perfect, but it would have to do for now.

Hardly had he pressed it that the world around him bent once again, entropic energies converging towards him into a new, decisive blow. The young man frowned, focusing his own thoughts, his own grip on reality, into an invisible yet solid wall of probabilities. Chaos patterns he could understand and weave, as well as counter and block, and since the creature (for want of another, better name) had registered on his device as being of entropic nature, this was the most logical course of action to take—the only one, too, in his present situation.

The Ward enveloped him, deployed by the program he had coded into an application, as crude and imperfect as it was without added settings to make it stronger. The mage had designed it to prevent anything considered as chaotic from seeping into its confines, and to deflect any change in space towards another location. Either he would make it long enough for his attacker to back off, or he would break, but he sure would not die like a coward, without even attempting anything.

For the first time, Echoes managed to discern the edges of a somewhat human-shaped silhouette, too tall, too broad-shouldered and bulky to be that of an actual man, yet that nevertheless brought to mind the pronoun he. Although he could see through it, the landscape that appeared on the other side remained dulled and blurred, drained of its colours, all in white lights, black sky and grey shapes.

The low, continuous growl the thing let out filled the air everywhere around them, covering the many noises of the city, the dark Thames sloshing beneath the young man’s feet, the distant roar of cars, even those that were still crossing the river here. It looked at him, or so it felt, with a burning, intense hunger, a need so overwhelming that the Technomancer almost let his grasp on space and probabilities slip. If he allowed his willpower to wane, the two fists that were about to bury themselves in his Ward would drill a hole straight towards and through him, and this would be the end.

The strength of his mind stood as the last wall between death and him. Wasn’t this why modern mages called themselves willworkers, after all? Will. Will it. Must will it. With all I have!

His enemy struck; the abnormal curvature of space between the both of them diverted the blow, slightly enough for Reality to register it as a mere slip, as a missed attempt, at least for now. However, soon, a strangled cry of horror died in the Technomancer’s throat, for one of those fists reached through his shield nonetheless, dense fingers outstretched towards his chest. Somehow the creature was pushing through, even though its presence inside the Ward was diminished.

There’s another component, Echoes understood, eyes widening in shock; and then the fingers dove into his heart.

The attack wasn’t one of strength. It did not crush his ribs, did not send him rolling to the ground again, nor against the nearby arch. Instead, those invisible fingers found the very core of his being, and stayed there—fingers he could not see, whose presence he only guessed, and above all felt within him, alien, definitely alien.

This time, the pain that flared through his whole body was too much for him to scream, to take any new breath, to gasp, even. His shield wavered, weakened both by suffering and by the realisation that it was not working as intended. Yet for some reason, he had not died on the spot. He must have done something right, otherwise he—

Entropic… in part… I blocked that… but… something else… not material… so what…?
Ring…

He blinked, once, twice, several times, trying to focus, to fight the freezing grasp of those fingers that were killing him slowly. A new thought shot through his failing mind—I know that feeling… Familiar, so familiar…

And there he was again, in the place that still haunted his dreams. The damp chill of another winter night, a scream of agony piercing his ears, light reflected in mad eyes, a hand reaching for him, a hand and a blade, and then pain, pain more horrible than whatever he had imagined in his worst nightmares, something was wrong, so wrong, and he knew his heart was about to burst, to explode into countless fragments, leaving him to die, his last vision that of those panicked blue-grey eyes that he so wanted to—

“Enough.”

Somewhere far away, yet at the same time too close, the wind carried the faintest trace of a whisper.

Darkness other than the night sky’s fell over his eyes, covering his vision. Gasping for air, he tried to press the icon on his screen again, to reinforce his Ward by iterating it, running a second instance atop the first one. Everything was already fading, fast, too fast…

Dammit, Ring… If you’re ever gonna show up… do it now!

“ENOUGH!”

And then, much to his surprise, the creature let go.

One moment, Echoes was prey to a raging mass of chaotic energy given shape, agonising at the end of an immaterial hand. The next, he was alone, slumped on his side on the cold pavement, his body once again racked by a severe fit of coughing, his lips now wet with fresh blood, his whole being plagued by the lingering sensation of something heavy pressing on his chest.

‘What… the fuck?…’

The sound of his raspy voice seemed to bring the city back to him, the city and its constant humming of cars and voices and life, as well as a renewed awareness of the taste of his own demise in his mouth, of his scratched palms, of a stinging ache in his right knee, where it had collided with the ground. Another car passed on the bridge; since its driver did not slow down either, Echoes supposed himself was not that visible from the street.

The Technomancer scrambled back to his feet, limbs still shaking, chest still painful from both the blow and from so much running around. In a reflex, he darted his gaze right and left, many times, in search of the hidden threat; but the creature was gone, leaving only a chilly trail of entropic spots in its wake.

He wiped his mouth with two fingers, then patted his coat, afraid to find more blood there. But there was nothing, nothing at all, no wound nor other trace of his having been hurt. Whatever the creature had done to him, or tried to do, it had been of chaotic origin, and not physical.

Chaotic?… No, not only. I’m sure I blocked that part.
Shit. I need a second piece of advice about that.
Or not? Scratch that—I need to find that fucker and throw him in the fucking river!

He clenched his teeth, gripped his Smartphone harder, a renewed sparkle of determination in his hazel eyes. First, he had to locate that thing again. Then he would send another message to his partner, hoping that she would get back to him in time. After that…

Warning – Entropic wave detected – x=46/y=78/z=203

The mage’s attention snapped back to the bridge, to the pathway he was standing on, to the disturbing presence of the creature made of chaos patterns—and to the eyes of the young woman who had been walking towards him, coming from the other bank, clearly in a hurry, and just as clearly oblivious to what had just happened.

Warning – Entropic wave detected – x=46/y=78/z=203

‘Fuck, no!

He pictured the creature grinning, as its ghostly hand went through the girl’s chest, doing to her heart what it had done to the willworker’s.

The only difference was that the girl could not bend Reality, could not raise a Ward, and thus could not protect herself.