It was only 4pm and Kade was wrecked. He finished the last of the paperwork and stood with a groan, stretching his arms up over his head. His back cracked and he relaxed before sighing with relief.
“Got any plans for the rest of the day?”
Kade looked over and saw one of the nurses smiling at him, tugging her bag over her shoulder. He waited for her to catch up then matched his pace to hers as they walked out of the hospital.
“Nah, I’m dead tired,” he said. “Think I’ll just catch up on some sleep; today felt way longer than usual. That pile-up on the highway had me running flat for the rest of the day.”
“I knew it wasn’t going to be a good day when it started with calling security on two addicts, one after the other,” she agreed. “But hey, we chose this job. We’re all a little bit insane.”
Kade shared a smile with her, one that conveyed the insanity he knew everyone had been feeling throughout the day. It was hard, working in an Emergency Room, especially on days like today where the number of deaths and the level of uncertainty built up until it was almost too much to handle. It was good to have the other nurses and doctors around him who understood the problems and fears that hung over his own head.
When they stepped outside into the late afternoon sunlight, Kade’s shoulders relaxed further as an invisible weight lifted. He’d learnt long ago the many perks of compartmentalization. After a hard day of work, he could leave all his anxiety and stress from the hospital behind. He didn’t even look twice at the ecto-mist that swirled into being next to him. The nurse walked straight through it, her human eyes unable to catch a glimpse of it. The mist didn’t stir with her passing; instead it swirled with its own otherworldly currents.
Kade couldn’t see much these days due to the serum, but if he did, the apparitions and spirits were pale imitations of what they used to be. They hardly bothered him now. He was so used to looking through them these days that he could almost convince himself that he was normal – that he’d always been normal.
Kade parted ways with the nurse at her car, ignoring her subtle hints to get a drink and unwind together. He had a routine, now, one that kept his mind occupied and firmly off the past. It was one of the reasons he loved being an ER doctor so much – it gave him no time to think. Every day after his shift was over, he headed off to run until his lungs hurt and his legs began to drag. Then he’d grab dinner, look up the latest research in medical journals, and go to sleep.
He was halfway to his apartment when he felt his hair stand on end, tiny slithers of ice shivering down his spine. The feeling made his hands automatically twitch into fists. Fortunately, the instincts beat into him long ago kept him walking without pause. In the years since he’d left the Eight Circle behind, he’d only had this feeling a few times, though never as intense as what he was experiencing now.
The serum made him blend seamlessly with the humans around him, instead of his aura being a flaming signal for anyone with a bit of the otherworld in their blood. It had taken a lot of getting used to, flying under the radar, walking past demons and spirits alike with little notice from them. So having the attention of one, of someone powerful, made his breathing quicken.
He swept his eyes casually across the street in front of him, but nothing jumped out at him. From college students to the homeless to businessmen – all he saw were civilians going about their normal human days. Surely even with the serum numbing his senses, he’d still be able to see a presence that strong? Years of training flooded back in that moment, keeping his mind calm as the adrenaline kicked in. His heartbeat picked up, a drum beat in his ears as it chased away his earlier weariness. He was completely alert now.
Keeping his movements slow, he twisted to search in his satchel for his phone. His eyes flicked up, searching behind him until—there.
There was no mistaking him: the swagger, the arrogant tilt of his mouth, pale skin contrasting violently with his blood red eyes. He hadn’t changed a bit, but then again, the demon was over three hundred years old – these past four years in which he hadn’t seen Kade would have passed in the blink of an eye for him.
Any thoughts he’d previously had that had chalked this all up to his senses overreacting were long gone. Not twenty feet behind him, hands in his suit pockets, was Claudiel; a mercenary – an otherworldly gun for hire – and he was tracking Kade.
Seeing as the last time he’d seen Claudiel, Kade had locked him in an enchanted stone coffin in the pits of the Sixth Circle, this was not going to be good. Kade’s instincts shivered and rippled, muffled beneath the effects of the serum, still trying to branch out into the world around him at the scent of danger.
Now that Kade knew Claudiel was there, his presence was like an inferno at his back. He didn’t have time to wonder who had sent Claudiel or how the demon of the Fifth Circle had even found him. He casually turned into a side street and took off. His shoes thudded against the pavement, jeans stretched and pulled tight on his thighs, but he pushed himself harder. He knew the moment Claudiel turned the corner and saw him – he called out to Kade, but the words were lost on him as the wind pounded in his ears.
He saw another tiny street on his left and ducked down it, immediately throwing himself right into an alley. At its mouth, ecto-mist swirled and a huge form took shape. Kade wasn’t going to stick around and find out what was emerging.
The backdoor of a restaurant was just swinging shut as he wrapped his fingers around the edge of it and threw himself inside. He burst into the kitchen, dodging angry chefs along the way, and swiped a butcher knife. Kade shoved it through his belt, along with a tub of what was either salt or sugar – hopefully the former.
In a second flat he was out of the kitchen and into the dining area, weaving around tables before bursting out the front and running straight across the road. Cars screeched and horns blared. One taxi didn’t stop and he leapt, sliding across the front hood and, landing with sure feet, ducked into another alley. He saw red-tinged mist billow out ahead and changed directions at the last second, crashing into the doorway of a building and almost losing his grip on the salt before getting his feet under him again. He pushed past a man getting his mail and took the steps three at a time, his thigh muscles straining while his breath panted loudly in his ears.
He used to hate running. Used to think it was the coward’s option – rhetoric that had been firmly reinforced by his father. But he’d come to realise it was the smart option. Especially when he had no weapons to fight with other than a tub of hopefully salt and a knife.
He’d climbed up eleven flights of stairs until they stopped and he burst out onto the roof. With sure hands he flicked the lid off the tub and poured it in a careful circle around him. It was a bit shaky, not as perfect as what he’d once been able to do, but it would serve its purpose. He drew another quick circle inside the first before dropping the container and whipping out the knife. A quick slash across his palm had his blood pooling up and, with a murmured word, he slammed his palm down on the outer salt circle.
For a moment, nothing happened. Had the serum been too effective?
Abruptly, Kade noticed something sucking the blood from his wound. Thin red tendrils spread across the curved line of salt. They’d just begun to meet when the door slammed open and Claudiel strolled out. The demon took in Kade’s crouched form and the activated circles of power that surrounded him as his smirk widened.
“I’m glad to see that your years slumming with the humans hasn’t completely erased your instincts.” His hands were still in his suit pockets, though he did look slightly ruffled from the climb. You could only shift laterally – vertically was too hard for most. It was what Kade had been counting on.
“What do you want?” Kade asked. With his blood sealing and activating the circles, he rose up so that he could look Claudiel straight in the eye. His gaze flicked to the side as two of his apparition lackeys formed out of swirling ecto-mist.
“I’ve come for you, little princeling. What else would I be here for?” he mused. He took a hand out of his suit pocket to rest on his hip, the tips of his white fingers stained red. “You have a price on your head and it is my intention to collect. It seems it’ll be easier than I’d first thought – I didn’t expect you to be so… weak.”
Kade’s mind flew, trying to figure out what the hell this could all mean. “Who would put out a price on the Eighth Overlord’s son?” he questioned. The title felt foreign coming from his mouth, rusty from disuse.
Claudiel smiled, teeth pointed and gleaming in the late sunlight. “Did I forget to mention daddy dearest is no longer Overlord of any circle?”
Kade pushed down his initial rage and pain, knowing that if he lost his head now then that would be it.
“Don’t play games with me, Claudiel,” Kade said roughly. “If you’re about to take my head, the least you can do is be straightforward beforehand.”
Claudiel lifted one shoulder nonchalantly. “It’s all the same for me. But I respect you, Kade, or at least I respected the man you once were. Now you’re just a poor imitation. Human,” he snarled before pausing. “No, I don’t feel like setting your mind to rest. Now we can be even for when you left me in that cursed box, hm?”
Claudiel didn’t wait for an answer. He stalked forward, holding his hand out to the side as a slender blade of gleaming red materialized in his grip. He twirled it around once then, with both hands, swung it at Kade. It smashed through the first circle but the second one held, making Kade grunt and rock back on his feet from the force of the blow. He could feel what little power he still had draining from his body. He planted his feet and gripped onto his near-useless knife tightly, body coiled and waiting for the shield to break and Claudiel’s sword to descend.
The shield shattered, but not by Claudiel’s sword. Kade rocked forward at the sudden loss and brought up his knife, but Claudiel had already begun stumbling backwards. His red-tipped fingers clutched at the blade protruding from his eye. The demon shrieked as he pulled it from his socket. Someone flew past him, blades flashing, and Claudiel barely managed to bring his sword around in time. He made a sharp sound as the apparitions descended on his saviour. A few quick swipes and they’d been dealt with but in that second, Claudiel instead had managed to shift away.
Suddenly, the rooftop was silent bar the sound of panting and Kade’s heart thundering in his ears. His eyes finally focused on the person slowly turning towards him.
Blonde hair, tightly pulled back into a severe bun. Boots, jeans, shirt – all black, the short sleeves revealing slender toned arms. A thick silver short sword that exuded fluorescent blue ecto-mist was in one hand. The other hand, densely ringed, clutching a black stained dagger.
It was Giv.