The Influencer

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Chapter 13

Some bearded monk dude who appeared to control the Cellheads was looking for a fight. He wanted to see “the bird.” The Strix intended to deliver on that fight—The Strix had never lost one. The monk was likely looking for The Owl, but Hezzy had gone dark. This was Yoma’s fight now.

The damp stench of the tunnels beneath the park which led to Gracie Mansion was of little matter to Yoma. Even when she lived as the demonic Strix, some irritations did get through—and some was enough to irk her. The worst was the flooring (or lack thereof) in the tunnel.

While the ground provided anonymity in its sound absorbing properties, The Strix felt less powerful without the cracking of concrete beneath her feet. She wanted to break shit. Aside from the lack of things to crush, she’d had to duck through the whole damn tunnel—make herself small and quiet on her way to the showdown.

She usually sought stealth and cover during her night raids, and found it easily—but that was when she felt strong. That was when she felt safe; protected and cared for. When she felt like she had backup.

“Huh.” A bitter laugh left her. One that started out as a low growl in her throat and turned into a simple wisp of air. There was no bellow, no strong voice. No orders to yell, directives to give.

None to receive.

She was alone. Hez was gone.

She wore an impervious exoskeleton-mech suit that allowed her to be twice her size, equipped with an EMP—the perfect defense against these Cellheads and whoever the hell their leader might be—but she didn’t feel like The Strix. Not tonight. Just some girl again.

She could be equipped with an arsenal rivaling that of the US, China, and Russia combined; and she’d still be nervous.

She checked the time on her HUD.


She made a ridiculous run/crawl through the underground maze; Yoma’s skell and cloak were covered in sewer grime.

She emerged in a less-than stellar, super-hero-like stumble from the underground a short distance from where Gracie Mansion sat. Good thing her target wasn’t there to witness her. She looked pathetic. Off-balance. She needed to get herself together before meeting the bearded monk.

She looked in the direction of Gracie Mansion. Legions of red, white, and blue lights strobed on the horizon, obscuring the building itself.

Summoning every bit of confidence she could, she stood upright in the skell. This is exactly what Hezzy would’a wanted me to do… or hell, maybe not. Maybe he would have told her not to go. She chuckled. Nah. This was bigger than them, like he said. And Yoma had to right it. Playing in the big leagues now.

She rooted her feet, and yelled at the top of her lungs through the suit’s voice modifier. The noise transformed into a banshee shriek. The deafening screech echoed throughout the park, causing birds to vacate the nearby trees.

You got this. Yoma took off in a run.

She maneuvered through the trees and shadows, while keeping an eye on the crowd of cops and other law enforcement agents that were running over to investigate the horrid noise.

The Strix charged past the police barricade unnoticed, and found herself in a strange clearing. A smoldering pile of… nothing. A scorched, decimated ground the diameter of a castle; if there were anything to compare it to.

A fucking castle. The mansion?

Yoma kept running, running to the middle of the pile of rubble, the ashes. The remains of the seemingly spontaneously combusted Gracie Mansion.

She saw a cell phone, staticky, glowing purple, scuttling across the ground.

It ran for her, but Yoma didn’t care to run to, or away from it. Her heart was racing, pounding from… wherever it had dropped to within her body.

The cyborg rodent stopped about a foot in front of her. The screen on the phone flashed purple-white-purple-white; there appeared to be text on the screen. She squatted as low as the skell would allow, and squinted to better read the words:

birds of a feather flock together.

i have the owl. I want the strix.

if you want your friend to live, turn yourself in.

the possessed will show you the way.

Yoma had no time to cry or be frightened, just to do whatever her adrenaline instructed to get Hezzy back.

A small part of her felt relief—she hated it and felt selfish. But if she followed the instructions, she could see Hezzy; who, for all intents and purposes, was supposed to be dead to her.

And she’d trade anything in the world to have him back.

She followed the scuttling purple rectangle into the dark.

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