Vincent stood and drew Cerberus. He scanned the surrounding area, but saw nothing. Beside him, Hikari whimpered. He shot a quick glance at her and saw she was staring at the gun, shaking.
Damn. Vincent hastily stowed Cerberus in its holster. He could not, would not, send Hikari into her battle-state again. Even though a small part of him admitted that her skills could be helpful in this situation. Vincent cupped her face in his hands, drawing her eyes to his. "Hikari," he said, "where are they? And how many? Can you tell?"
Hikari took a deep breath, obviously struggling to control her fear and desire to flee. She closed her eyes, a slight frown of concentration on her face. "Close," she said. "Ink-black footsteps all around. Circle. Bad mens." She shuddered. "Many. Maybe... five fives?"
At least twenty-five then. How did they sneak up on us so fast? And how did they find us? Vincent forced those questions into the back of his mind. Because it did not matter right now. He had to protect Hikari and get her to safety, all without using a weapon. A memory surfaced and a sharp, humorless smile crossed his face. He didn't need Cerberus. With his Limit Breaks, Vincent himself was a weapon. But he wasn't sure how Hikari would react to those terrifying forms. Even with the four Limit Breaks at his disposal, he might still be overwhelmed by their attackers. Flight was their best option.
"Hikari," he said, keeping his voice calm and reassuring even as he felt precious seconds ticking away. Her mismatched eyes flew open. He could feel the tension radiating off of her. She wanted to run. "Hikari, I need you to trust me," Vincent said. "I'm going to change my shape. I'll look very different but I promise, it'll still be me. Don't move and don't run. I'll get you away from here."
She nodded, eyes wide. Vincent let go, stepped back, and for the first time felt a slight twinge of gratitude for the changes that had been made to his morphology. He focused on the energies within, shifting the molecules in his body. He had not attempted to use any of his Limit Breaks since his clash with Omega, let alone this one, and for a split second wondered if he was making a mistake. But the murderous rage of Chaos did not surface; this was merely a shift in form to give himself wings.
Hikari remained by the fallen tree log, but she stared with a look of horrified fascination on her face. "Vincent?" she asked hesitantly. But there was no time to reassure her that it was still him inside this demonic shape. A muzzle flash came from the forest. Hikari's mysterious trackers had found them.
Vincent surged forward, shielding Hikari with his wings. The projectile struck the outer membrane, but did not penetrate it. This was not the blunt impact of a bullet, but was smaller and more needle-like. They're firing darts of some kind, he thought.
He felt a series of smaller, weaker impacts as more darts hit. No time to waste. Vincent wrapped his arms around Hikari, whispered, "Hang on," and flung himself away from the muzzle flashes. With the still air, he had to pick up some speed before he could launch into the sky.
More darts peppered the ground beside Vincent as he ran. He could see them now, men in nondescript body armor with blank masks covering their faces and long, narrow dart-rifles in hand. The masks were light on one side, dark on the other, with no obvious openings for eyes or a mouth. There was something odd about them, but he could not place it. They were closing in, the large circle of the ambush pulling tighter to cut off their escape routes.
But it no longer mattered. Vincent spread his wings and launched into the air. Hikari gasped and wrapped her arms tightly around his waist. This lesser Chaos form was not strong enough to fly great distances, but if he could get above the trees and put some distance between them and their attackers...
Vincent slammed head-first into an invisible shield. Electricity coursed through his body, scrambling his thoughts. Distantly, he heard Hikari screaming, felt himself losing control of the Chaos form, losing the wings that kept them from crashing to earth... Somehow, he managed to keep his grip on Hikari.
Pain crushed the air from his lungs. Bones snapped on impact, ribs, possibly a leg. The electricity made his muscles twitch in a dance of pure agony. He lost his grip on her. Hikari...
His head lolled to one side, and he saw Hikari lying on the ground next to him. Her body was also shaking, little ripples of the electric shock racing along her apparently unbroken limbs. He could not see her face, could not tell if she was still alive.
The masked men approached with their rifles at the ready. Vincent tried to move, to stand and fight them off, but his battered body refused to obey. He tried to focus on a Limit Break, but his thoughts kept skittering away, broken into fragments by the lingering shock. He could only watch in helpless rage as one of the masked men raised his rifle and fired a dart into Hikari. She jerked once, then lay still. Then the man turned the barrel towards Vincent and darkness consumed everything.