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Hordes of Doggerland Part 11

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By mappalazarou
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Doggerland was on him like an avalanche, and it was raining hard. King showered himself in the tame energy of these people as they cried and roared their positive appraisal. It was not entirely unlike when the League of Iron was first established. They too promised an era of unremitting submission. Over the years however King had learned that there was a vast difference between that and oppression. He would not oppress, not matter how much the Countess burned a hot poker into his back. If there was one thing he could give to these people, for they were people and not monsters, then it was a stray hair of hope.
“Everyone in this room has done wrong,” he reasserted as the noise died down. Behind him the curved stairwell which led up to the ruins of the Blue Lagoon were flooded, creating a powerful cascade of falling water at his back. It was a new tide.
“It matters not. Together under the waters of this world we are baptised. No more shall we feel the guilt of our actions. No more shall we feel that any of this was our fault. The city will continue. It will endure has it done since its delivery, through strife and treachery. Everything that happened in the days before must be forgiven and although we will never ever forget those times we will learn from the countless and shared transgressions of them, as a family. This is how Doggerland survives, with its people united under a single banner.” Further applause rocked the plaza. The floors and walls and windows shook and creaked under the thunderous strain of the peoples’ collective joy, and King washed himself of all responsibility. Time may have transformed his flesh but psychologically the man was still as he had always been, and that was a symbol. A symbol of what, however, remained utterly questionable; although as a man he had always moved towards fulfilling his devout beliefs and to the people of the city that was, at the very least, something. King considered Koch. Inevitably however, thoughts of further discipline lingered.
He knew that one thing was forever certain.
He had now publicly defied the Countess. In his very first act as new leader he had defied her and scarring consequences would surely follow. Koch’s death had been adjusted, and now King beheld the crowd as they bathed in the ecstasy of his glorious return and, beyond them; he caught sight of a hooded figure pushing away. One of his loyal snowflakes was breaking free of the avalanche. His mind went blank. It wasn’t hard to work out who it was.
“CJ!” he roared as his world filled with terror.
The plaza fell into a horrifying silence.

CJ froze a few feet from an Iron Angel, which itself was guarding the nearest service elevator. The robot lifted its sword to her. The glare of a thousand eyes burned on her back and she turned. It was dizzying at first, like staring into the many flares of the sun. She threw her gaze beyond them. King was standing in the centre of the scaffold with his arms outstretched as the crowd parted like a biblical waterway. Koch’s body was still swaying softly underneath, the rope holding him in place. He was wet from the staircase waterfall. Slowly, CJ pulled back her hood and let her hair fall free. The crowd watched and waited like hungry wolves waiting for their alpha to strike. They were the faces of dozens of monsters. Whatever King thought of them, he was wrong.
“Won’t you join us?” King asked as if raising a glass.
CJ folded her arms in defiance.
She spoke: “You think this will work but it won’t, King. You want the truth? Well you’re not worthy to rule Doggerland. By executing Koch you’ve nudged the bottom deck free and your house of cards is about to tumble down. You created the League of Iron. It’s your fault they failed to live up to their responsibilities. In fact I think the real reason you ended up in Shades Alley is because you were ashamed of what you had done. You can’t run from that. Wherever you go it will be there right behind you.” There was a long pause where a thousand angry eyes rebounded off her and up towards the scaffold. Irritatingly King was still smiling. He shrugged off their curiosity without any visible care.
“You know what?” he responded candidly. “I suppose you’re right. But I’ve already paid for my sins. How about you? How many have you killed since you woke up in Doggerland?”
The glares rebounded again and CJ didn’t dare brave an answer.
King grinned.
“Don’t you see? I’m offering all of the people, including you, a second chance to get things right. All you have to do is choose to redeem yourself by washing your hands of the blood of your brothers, and give up this dream of yours to go up there, to the surface. There is nothing else out there but salt water and death. The moment you leave the sharks will come. They’re already circling you know, waiting to come down here and take our kingdom by force. All it takes is a few drops of red and they’ll be charging at the gates.”
CJ considered it an odd metaphor, but then King was as much a warlord as the Countess. She must have got it from somewhere…
“Who are you?” asked CJ. “How do you know me?”
“Well I remember.”
“Remember what?”
“I remember when you first arrived here, such a lonely soul. You were searching for the truth you said.”
CJ stared.
“But you haven’t found it yet,” he added sincerely, “have you?”
CJ waited. She knew that King was enjoying every second of this. He was blinded by the power of his new followers. He needed to give them a show, however humiliating it was to her, to show what kind of leader he was going to be to them. He continued: “You really don’t know, do you?”
CJ drew Kazumi. The blade rang out as it cut the air. The combined hordes shuffled back an inch. “That’s right,” she said, “I’m trained to use this thing and I will kill again if I have to.”
“But you don’t have to anymore. That’s the thing. You’re one of us, and you’re more than welcome to join our new world. You’re more welcome than anyone here, CJ.”
She touched her temple as a sharp pain fired up one side of her face. It faded after a moment, but it was a painful reminder:
“It’s the maelstrom. It’s been burning at my thoughts ever since I got trapped down here,” she said.
King rolled his bottom lip and nodded as he listened. He knew exactly what she was talking about. Scarily CJ sensed no deceit from the man. Regardless, she raised Kazumi again but this time at arm’s length: “Tell me everything and be quick.”
King showed his hands much in the same way that a criminal surrenders them to a police officer, and smiled apologetically. “You can’t leave, CJ. I’m sorry.”
“But I am leaving,” she said.
“No. You literally, physically cannot leave.”
“But I am leaving,” CJ’s words stung the air. Strangely, painfully, that was when her nose started to bleed. Her head stung. The world blurred. This had happened a few times before, when she thought too much. “…I am…leaving.”
King nodded again and, again, CJ felt no deceit. She quickly realised that she was leaning to one side and quickly straightened herself. The hordes watched her with intrigue as she wiped away the blood on the back of her hand and then steadied Kazumi as before. Strangely the sword felt heavier than ever, as if it was unused to her. CJ was feeling very drowsy all of a sudden as whatever was happening was dangerously hypnotic. “You’ve… you’ve drugged me,” she struggled against an invisible weight.
“It’s not a drug,” King said miserably. “It’s an inhibitor. Keep thinking about the surface and you’ll collapse. We’ll have to resuscitate you and I don’t think we have the time…” CJ then caught that he was staring to the service elevator behind her. She looked up and saw that the box was descending the shaft all of the way from the dreaded Bathory Courts. As she turned back she saw that the various hordes had started to kneel. The very idea of kneeling was alien to them; she could see it on their faces, in their stiff and reluctant movements. But it was programmed. It was embedded onto their very brains. Even King had to fight it.
“Our Lady is coming,” King announced as he forced his leg straight. The bone released an excruciating crack as his muscles waged an imperceptible war for dominance. His voice became distant, overcome by the pain of it. “Our Lady comes!” he gasped.
CJ felt her body swerve. She couldn’t control it. Her legs started to give into the pressure, kneeling down onto the water.

**

The lights in Bathory’s office were stained with blood, giving the whole room a morose crimson shade. The Countess rose to her feet slowly, still breathless and strained from her battle. The corpse of Bathory lay in a gruesome mound by Elle’s cot, as still as the last time she had seen it. The Spirit Edge glinted victoriously as it stood, impaled through the nurse’s body and then deep into the floor. The translucent blade flashed by a series of memories within its glass, none of which the Countess recognised, none of which belonged to Bathory either to her knowledge. She caught glances of green fields, of battle between two great armies, of a medieval city with a cathedral islanded at its centre and a masked vigilante with an army of ghosts. The Countess had never been to Earth before Doggerland, but that image struck a chord. What it meant however eluded her.
The corpse had been possessed by something and now the Spirit Edge seemed to be too, as if it had poured out of one and into the other. The Countess was aware that most things in the universe she would never understand but things in this city were under her control.
But there was no time – she yanked the sword free and wiped it clean. Bathory’s limbs collapsed a final time as the Countess leapt over them and headed out towards the plaza. The handle stung at her fingers as if fighting back. The sensation was electric.
After all of this was over she would free Koch from his torment in the ruins of Celestial Heights and have him work out what curse had befallen her best sword, but for now she had to chase down Susie. The Countess had come too far to let this end in failure. She had travelled far and wide across time and space in search of the girl she loved. She considered, as she flew down the main hall and passed the various dead surgeons lying across her path, that the League of Iron had been a success in one way. As a ruling body they had grown greedy and feuding, but they had found the baby and had protected her from harm. Months before and the Countess even considered abandoning the city to ruin and moving on, if not for that damn vortex manipulator of hers going missing. The truth had always been hidden but the truth was, like the rest of them, the Countess had become trapped down here in the very world that she and King had forged under the sea.
It was all painfully ironic. But the baby was the key.
Finding Elle was all she ever wanted. Finding Elle would solve all of her problems and made all of the struggles and conflicts finally go away. It would all be worth it in the end.  

**

The elevator jolted to a stop and the doors parted with a hiss of escaping moisture. Susie was sweating from her escape. The air from the plaza was thick and humid with the heat of a sauna. She unwrapped some of the baby blanket to let the newborn breathe but even then, the city was suffocating.
It’s almost time to get out of here, she thought as she looked down into the face of her child. We’ll be free again…
“You have to set it free,” P90’s warnings melded with her mind. “The TARDIS.”
Laski fluttered nervously as he hung from a satchel on Susie’s waist. His pages glowed as if he was waiting for something. Then again, Susie reminded herself, wasn’t Laski always waiting for something?
An Iron Angel guarded the doorway. It stared at Susie for a moment but then stepped aside. Clearly she posed no imminent danger to it. She stepped out, holding the baby tightly against her chest as her feet splashed into the ankle-deep water. It was raining in the plaza. Above the sea could have been an army of black clouds. For a second she thought she even caught a distant flash of lightning, blue with dark familiarity. The hordes of Doggerland, whatever was left of them, knelt before Susie. The baby girl murmured a little with innocence. The gargling rush of water was a new sound just like everything else and it strangely roused the child. It was her first exposure to nature. Susie rushed over to CJ as the North Sea continued to rain down through the gaps in the glass above, splattering and splashing down onto the monsters below. They were as still as statues in a storm. King of Shades Alley observed from the scaffold. Susie didn’t bother to give him a second glance.
“What are you doing?” Susie whispered to CJ who, like the rest, was kneeling in the water with her eyes fixed shut. That was when some of the mutants risked a glance from nearby. “Get up.” Susie demanded.
“I can’t,” said CJ quietly. Kazumi was buried into the floor beneath the water and she had raised a knee as a knight does before a monarch. “I can’t move, Susie.”
“Why not?”
CJ eventually managed to force her eyelids apart. The first thing she saw was the baby. “She’s beautiful.”
“We have to move,” Susie said to her. “Whilst they’re all … distracted.”
“I can’t.”
“Why not?”
“Because she can’t,” echoed King. His voice was as commanding as it had been down in the arena. “She’s not like you.”
“No one is like me,” Susie raged calmly, “so why don’t you shut up.”
King conceded, which surprised the monsters between them. Susie ignored their interest.
“Come on,” she tried to pull CJ up, “we’re leaving.”
“I can’t leave, Susie!” CJ said and then pushed her away. Susie merely stepped back and sighed.
“Because you’re a clone?” she asked blankly.
CJ looked up, astonished.
“I don’t care about that. You still helped me,” said Susie. “I came to you when all was lost and you gave me a starting point. I bet it was you who destroyed the Vertigo Core and helped overthrow the League of Iron.” Suddenly, many of the mutants in the crowd threw a sceptical look over to the scaffold. Deceit was in the air. King did not react.
Susie meanwhile squeezed CJ’s shoulder. “Please. I need your help again.”
“This is all very touching,” King reiterated during a rather mocking applause, “but CJ cannot leave this city. She was grown here just like the rest of us.”
“Lies,” one of the mutants protested boldly. It appeared that whatever hypnosis had possessed them was wearing thin. The mutant heaved its weight onto its hind legs and faced the scaffold. “You said you executed the old man for destroying the Core!”
“I executed the old man for crimes against the city! He didn’t have to commit every atrocity. I had hoped to use him to absorb the guilt. Anyone in my position would do the same and you know it! In the end it doesn’t matter. So what if CJ destroyed the Core. I bet she had the best intentions. Doggerland was falling to pieces, perhaps to destroy the city seemed like the only way out.”
“Enough!” the mutant growled. It leapt up out of the crowd, spilling water over his brothers as he flew and then landed on the scaffold with a heavy thud. The impact made Koch’s corpse start to sway.
“Liar,” the mutant said to King. “You would trick us, just like the League did. We are no one’s slaves.” King kept the space between them but showed nothing but self-assurance. He merely shrugged. His mind seemed elsewhere. He looked to CJ again, quickly.
“Actually,” he said with uncertainty, “now that I come to think about it. Why did you destroy the Vertigo Core?”
CJ answered him with silence.
“Suit yourself,” he smiled again as the mutant drew closer. The hordes watched in horror as an Iron Angel appeared out from under the scaffold and impaled the mutant in the back. The giant creature unleashed a fearsome screech as the iron warrior severed its waist from its torso and then flung both out into the crowd. Mass panic followed. Only Susie seemed to notice that the elevator had shut and was rising back up to the Bathory Courts. Someone had called for it.
“Come on!” She dragged CJ to her feet. “If you want to die down here then that’s your business but I’ve got to get my daughter out of here!” CJ swayed a little, clearly disorientated, until Susie raised her hand and slapped her hard across the cheek. “CJ! Get with it!”
“You’re not going anywhere,” King said as he descended the scaffold and drew his giant’s sword, “do you know how far the Countess has come in search of that girl?”
The crowd of monsters huddled together in the limbo between King and the baby. CJ finally came back to her senses and yanked Kazumi out of the ground. She put herself between Susie and everyone else. “Oh CJ,” King groaned. “Do you even know why you’re so loyal to her?”
Again, CJ didn’t answer.
“Fine. I’ll explain it. You see, Koch wanted you to be perfect. That’s why he didn’t alter your personality. That was important, he said. It was one of the things that made you, well, you. And he wanted that, but he couldn’t have the real CJ because we needed her for something else.”
“For what?” snapped CJ. “Where is she?”
“Well that’s confidential. But she’s safe. Surely that’s enough.”
“I know why,” said Susie, much to King’s annoyance. He grunted with disappointment. “Ignore him. We’re leaving.”
“What are you talking about, Susie? None of this makes sense to me!” CJ struggled as the Iron Angels fought to control the whole plaza around them.
“Please CJ. You have to trust me. I found Koch’s files upstairs. They’re using you, the real you, to power the maelstrom!”
King raised his sword but CJ knocked it back with Kazumi. Susie remained behind her, clutching her daughter as tightly as she could. She continued: “Right now you’re in stasis somewhere in the city. Imagine all of that power with nowhere to go. The Jester did the same thing to you in Paris in order to summon his army of ghosts. He trapped you in stasis and used your power. When you came to Doggerland to investigate you got trapped again. They probably knew you were coming. This time all they needed was your telepathy.”
“My telepathy?” asked CJ.
“It’s why you can’t use your powers down here, CJ. You, the real you I mean, is being used as a power source. Once they had you they didn’t need the Vertigo Core anymore. All they needed was an ancient telepath with centuries of experience. That would keep Doggerland powered for millennia.”  
CJ waited as the cold truth hit her like an iceberg.
“I’m sorry,” Susie said again. “But you’re just a battery to them.”
Suddenly, CJ smashed Kazumi against King’s weaker blade. He splashed back defensively.
“What was the point of this?” she burned with anger. “Why clone me? Why not just keep me in stasis and be done with it?”
“Because they needed to lure me in,” Susie said coldly. “It was all about me… You’d keep me distracted, and all the while they could work upstairs away from the fighting. They never expected us to come this far, but we were always safe weren’t we, King?”
He shrugged again artlessly. “No one is ever safe really. You’re right though. You were dumped in Blue Moon Street for your own protection. Meanwhile the League of Iron did their part and kept the real monsters off your scent. They didn’t know it of course. It’s all cloak and dagger, all programmed into their subconscious. It even brought about their downfall in the end.”
By this point and an overwhelming quiet had returned to the plaza. King hadn’t realised that his voice had filled the ears of everyone around him. Nervously, embarrassedly, he looked to his left and right.
The hordes were angry. They moved inwards but the Iron Angels surrounded King in a sudden protective conclave.
In the following silence, the elevator slammed to a halt miles above.
“We have to go,” Susie stated. “Please, before she gets here.”
“And where will you go, I wonder?” King asked like a curious uncle as his private robotic army fended off some of the bolder members of the crowd. “This city is massive I grant you, but Our Lady knows it better than any one of us. She will find you wherever you hide. There is no way to escape Doggerland.” That was when the child started to cry. “Even if you should somehow go off and inspire a new resistance, you won’t have enough manpower to threaten the peace. There are two of you and over a hundred of us.” The bustling chaos of the plaza sank into a troubled silence as the baby’s cry filled the city. All of the monsters stared, mesmerized by the little human within their midst. Even King, for the first time ever, was lost for words.
“Wrong again, brother.”
The hordes watched in horror as a dead man materialised on the scaffold with a flash of strange power. In half-a-second King had been completely upstaged. He beheld the man in incomprehension.
“What…”
“What, indeed,” mumbled Finchy and then turned to the crowd, “To cut a long story short. We’re all guilty of something, all except that girl,” he pointed to the crying baby in Susie’s arms, “and I for one would rather see her gone. Not in a dead-way of course. No, no. We may be monsters but we’re not completely uncivilised are we? All this talk about redemption has got me feeling mighty nauseous. I say let’s stop with all of the politics and get our hands dirty one final time.”
King stared in wild awe.
“Oh yes, that’s right! The Countess led the attack on the Constantine Wharfs months ago didn’t she?”
Several monsters in the crowd nodded at Finchy’s assessment.
“Well she failed, and here I am,” he said, “because she’s not all powerful. She’s just a control freak and in the choice you have between the Iron Couplet and chaos, well, I’d choose chaos. Because the Countess and her pet monkey over here,” he nodded to King who grumbled something foul under his breath, “they formed the League of Iron. Everything that has happened to this city, good or bad, is their fault. So you want a new leader?”
They waited for his big speech, but even CJ was surprised when it didn’t arrive.
“Well tough,” was all he said. “You’re not sheep, people of Doggerland. This is your city. So why don’t you stop being led around, and take it!”
Then came the awkward silence.
“Yeah!” shouted CJ in spoilt enthusiasm.
But it seemed to do the trick. The crowd filled with enthusiastic wails and roars. The circle of Iron Angels tightened around King like a bubble.
“Take control,” King ordered his warriors. They spread out with their swords raised. “Make examples. Bring me the dead man’s head!” That was when various other flashes sparked up from the submerged corners of the plaza. Others appeared, others dressed in old leather like Finchy that Susie did not recognise, presumably other survivors of the Constantine Wharfs. It didn’t really matter to her. Everyone was surrounded by someone, the monsters, the Iron Angels, the creatures in between. It all began with a distant clash and someone screaming.
There was no time to work out who struck first but within seconds the entire plaza was strife with battle. CJ pulled Susie to one of the walls, away from the centre of the fighting.
Something smacked into her head and splashed down by her feet.
She swiped it up.
“A vortex manipulator?” Susie gaped. “But how? Who?”
CJ looked at Finchy, who saluted her and then dived off the scaffold and into the fight.
“Come on,” CJ fastened it to her wrist and grabbed Susie’s free hand. “Let’s get out of here.”
The baby whimpered as Susie softened her grip. A group of men with stitches on their features moved in, kicking and punching. One of them snatched Kazumi. CJ gasped and moved to snatch it back but it was too late – a flash of blinding light, and the three of them disappeared. King kicked his way towards the service elevator just as the door swished open again. The Countess emerged with the Spirit Edge fully drawn.
“What’s all this?” she said furiously. “King!”
One of the mutants shattered through one of the Iron Angels, launching its smouldering carcass towards her. She swooped up and cut it into pieces, and then used an invisible force to suddenly return them. The attacking mutant flailed and thrashed as the debris hurtled against it. The Countess meanwhile grabbed King by the collar. “What the hell have you done!” she yelled.
“This isn’t my doing!”
“You killed Koch!”
“Koch deserved it. Besides look around, we have bigger problems!” he said and shoved her back. “Look who’s alive! It’s madness!” Together they observed the scene. The hordes weren’t just fighting the Iron Angels. They were fighting each other.
“Where have they gone?” the Countess grabbed him again. “Where are they?”
King shook his head, completely lost. She threw him aside. In the midst of the battle she spotted Finchy going at it with two Iron Angels. He was bouncing Koch’s body between them, using it as cover. With the Spirit Edge by her side the Countess stamped towards the scaffold with murder blazing in her eyes.  

(More to come - watch this space!)
Episode Four clambers into its final chapters as King tries to unite the people and Susie tries to escape. The Countess, meanwhile, has other ideas.
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© 2013 - 2021 mappalazarou
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