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Cursed Earth | Later -->

To the south, whispered the voice in my waking dream. You will find your answer to the south. Visions swam into view now. A man with a rifle walking down a deserted street, a young yet seasoned girl at his side. Another working diligently over some kind of machine. Boys and teens, armed with improvised weapons and remarkable courage, succeeding where men had failed. Ragged wanderers, driven from their homes by demons, finding refuge on the seas. And somewhere, connected with all of this, a faint glimmer of hope. At long last I allowed myself a slight grin, and looked up.

The demons were still circling, tentative and uncertain. They could probably sense the vibrations, maybe even see them - some of 'em see in radio, anyway. I knew they wouldn't delay forever though, and they'd already been circling for over an hour. No matter. I closed my eyes again, letting my focus turn inward even as I turned my other senses outward, searching. Their emanations shone like beacons, points of light moving along the spiderweb that was the world's weave. They were orbiting around the bright ring of the magick circle around me, sniffing and probing with their radio-senses. All at once it became crystal clear - I could see the pattern in the demons' chaotic actions, the logic behind their arbitrary and seemingly random movements. It was coming.

I let them move first. The first one, a gamma, leapt at me, fangs bared, even as I sat. An orange flash lit the room as ripples of phase distortion materialized directly in front of it, reversing the creature's momentum in an instant. It crunched against the far wall and slid down, dazed. I was on my feet in a flash, grinning like a madman, my darn dao in hand and my eyes electric with excitement. I hadn't felt that alive in a very long time. I let the blade continue in an arc as I drew it, slashing across the chest of an alpha-prime, then pivoted quickly, bringing it down in a fierce overhead chop, neatly bisecting an alpha. I felt the gamma nearing me again, brushing across my aura, and I vaulted backward over it, ran to the window and took a flying leap, my coat streaming out behind me like Batman's cape. As I touched down and took off running, I could see the gamma diving after me, hitting the ground and popping up into a run. The street was overgrown, a weed-choked mess. How easily a demon's spindly legs could get caught up in all that undergrowth, I mused. Reaching into a pocket, I produced a few small pebbles and cast them into the wind, then ran on without a second thought. Behind me I heard the demon fall heavily to the ground. Hah, imagine that!

I rounded a corner and slowed to a fast walk, letting myself meld into the scenery. Five more minutes had me clear of immediate danger and to my cache. I undid the bonds, unlocked the padlock and jerked the little door open, grinning as I looked inside. Yes, it was all still there, weapons, armor, a better set of magical tools, and two weeks of provisions. A mage needs to be prepared, you know - oh, I have faith alright, but not blind faith. The All-Mother is more inclined to help those who help themselves, and fortune favors the prepared, anyway.

Everything in the cache was picked out for the road. There was a light but strong vest of kevlar and sintered polymetal scales - as good a protection against demon claws as you could easily travel in. The pistol, a Five-seveN, shot as true as a rifle, at least over any kind of distance that I'd need. All the tools could fit in a belt pouch. I even had proper MREs, the real Army type, that could keep for decades. I strapped the pistol to my thigh and pulled the kevlar vest on, picked up the rucksack and strolled over to the old 530i, parked across the street. Not that anyone would have seen it there, unless they knew where to look. I loaded a few spare cans of fuel into the trunk and back seat, and made sure the auxiliary tank was full too: after all, I did have a long ways to go. The voice had only told me a direction, but I was pretty sure I knew where to go. I turned the key, the BMW straight 6 roaring to life, and, daring to feel a glimmer of hope, drove off into the darkness. To the south.

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