Shades of Light

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Chapter 7

Isaac had grown somewhat restless and petulant as they walked all the way to the capital city. Caroline could understand why. They both felt like they could take on the world and do so much but instead they were forced to march through these beautiful lands without a chance to experience any of the things it had to offer. It was distracting. Nevertheless, Isaac was the first to notice that something was wrong. Caroline quickly unhooked her gun from her pack when she noticed him perk up and stare ahead.

“What is it?” she whispered.

“It is close,” he said and didn't elaborate. Instead he checked his rifle and increased his pace to a hasty jog. Caroline was a few steps behind him. The first stacks of smoke were now visible through the trees. As they made their way down the winding road, more ominous signs appeared to them. They encountered several traveling merchants, fleeing from the city with their hastily collected wares. They avoided Caroline's questioning gaze. A few women were wailing, while men were feverishly organizing a human chain of buckets going from the well to the edges of the burning buildings. The divide between the genders was strange to the two knights but they didn't have the time to reflect on it. Isaac scanned the environment with his gun at the ready. Caroline also stopped but instead asked one of the men what was going on. She managed to sound calm and confident, which resulted in a prompt but still panicked response.

“The Empress is dead!” he shouted back her. His eyes were bulging like they would fall out of his head and he had been crying. When Caroline cursed he staggered back and fled.

“We knew it would be bad,” Isaac said with the same fake confidence Caroline had used. “At least he's still here and we can get him before he does more damage.”

“It's the end of the world!” a crazed man shouted at the line of people handing around buckets. He was wearing the normal attire for peasants, colorful and functional, but he had pulled a jester's hat over his head. The bells rang as he jumped up and down, while pointing at the two otherworldly visitors. “They have done this to us! It's their fault! Look at them!”

Isaac aimed his rifle at the man but Caroline shoved him away.

“Where is the assassin?” she asked, directing the question at the crowd in general. The man in the jester's hat just giggled in response. The few people who took notice of her just stared at her. The large sub-machine gun in her hands also drew some strange looks. She repeated her question a second time and stopped some of the people who were running around but it got her no coherent response. The people of the city just stared at her with their big, wide eyes full of innocent ignorance.

They all jumped, Caroline included, at the sudden gunshot. All eyes turned to Isaac who casually waving his rifle at the sky.

“Where is the monster?” he shouted in a strange, almost playful, manner. Of course, they didn't know what an assassin was. How could she have forgotten?

“Knights!” a woman shouted. None of these people seemed to capable of conversing at a normal level right now. It wasn't like the fires were roaring or something. In fact, they were quite pleasant. Like a fireplace.

“The knights are fighting it,” the woman clarified. She indicated a direction. Isaac bolted. Caroline quickly thanked the woman before following him. She was doing a little too much following for her liking but there was no denying Isaac's ability to keep a level head under these circumstances.

They both almost felt like laughing when they finally found their quarry. They had needed to ask for directions another two times because the fight was moving quickly through the city. The invader was leading his would-be slayers through routes where their large suits of armor only barely fit through. If they hadn't seen what had happened to the knights who had got stuck it would've been funny to see the small giants crash through a door and into a house, only for the invader to jump out of the second story window right into the house across the street. They were now in a densely packed neighborhood but he had lead the merry band through market stalls, bath houses and parts of the absurdly spacious sewer (which still wasn't that big and smelled bad even here). He had picked off one knight after the other until only three remained. Sir Leonard was sitting on his horse, shouting for the two knights to get out of the house again and break into the other one. All three of the knights looked absolutely exhausted with thick strands of sweat-drenched hair covering their faces and sticking out of the seams between parts of their armor.

“I'm going to find a good vantage point,” Isaac said, tapping the scope on his rifle. Caroline nodded and made her way to Leonard.

“Lady Knight, your world harbors dishonorable creatures indeed,” Leonard said when he finally noticed her. He managed to haughtily look down on her with a sweaty strand of his golden hair across his eyes. “It has refused every challenge we have put forward and when we engage it on level ground it flees! What nonsense!”

“Again, Sir Knight, this creature is not from our world,” Caroline said, patiently. “Permit us to aid you in your quest. My...companion is getting ready to strike at this creature from a great distance and I posses considerable skill in combat as well.”

“I was hoping to have this over with before you arrived but-” he made a grandiose gesture indicating the situation around them “- a good leader knows when he is in over his head. If you can put a stop to all this death I besiege you, do so quickly.”

A loud crash announced that the knights had breached the door.

“Will do,” Caroline said and went inside, followed by the two men in armor. Inside, she was welcomed by a lot of screaming. The residents were mostly concerned with the damage to their door and seemed unaware of the danger above their heads. Caroline rushed for the stairs. When she was halfway, there was sudden crash behind her and after only the briefest moment of hesitation she turned around and stuck her head back into the one room which made up the ground floor. It was the first time she got a good look at what she had been tracking for the past few days. It was standing under a large hole in the wooden ceiling with the crumpled remains of a knight in armor under his feet. It had become normal to think of the invader as an 'it' but it definitely looked like a he. He was dressed in rags which were little more than sheets and wraps that formed a crude poncho, tied around a wiry but tough body. His face and arms were bare, revealing a silvery skin which was smooth like plate armor. His hands were wrapped in bloody leather but he wore a fine pair of boots. He looked around him like a wild animal and the terrified residents as well as a stunned knight just stared at him. He noticed her last and as his eyes set on her, a chill went down her spine. The eyes were like two pools of blood with just a small dot of black in the middle. The invader bared his teeth at her and lunged at the window. Caroline opened fire but only managed to perforate the walls behind where the things had been. It was already through the window, appearing to take little notice of the glass, and running through the street. As Caroline tried to get back through the door she was momentarily blocked by the last remaining knight saying a prayer for his fallen comrade. She had no time for that and pushed him aside. She was just in time to see Leonard charge at the 'monster'. The proud Asgardian knight held his sword high as he spurred his steed forward. The dark man-thing stood there, observing the approach. It had stopped halfway down the street for some reason. Caroline prepared to open fire again but her line of fire was block by Leonard and his horse. The horse slowed down at the last moment, afraid of this thing that wouldn't move out of the way, and just as they were about to collide the otherworldly creature jumped and kicked Sir Leonard in the chest. His sword fell out of his hand and both humanoids tumbled from the horse. The spooked animal continued running. The invader kept rolling when it hit the ground and jumped between two houses and out sight. Caroline ran after it, but it was gone. She looked back at Leonard.

“I am in position,” Isaac reported over the radio. Caroline pushed the button to respond but no words would come while she was looking at the fallen knight. He had fallen flat on his back and didn't move. There was a dent on his chest and his right arm looked broken. Caroline suspected that his injuries were far more severe than could be seen from the outside. His breathing was very shallow.

“Acknowledge, Caroline, I don't want to assume that you're dead already,” Isaac said.

“Acknowledged, Isaac,” She responded. “Target is moving outward. I am in pursuit.”

She ran in the direction that their quarry had gone in.

There were a lot of buildings with towers in the city and Isaac had found the best one within running distance. The man who had tried to keep him out had called it a 'church'. All he knew was that it provided a 360* view of the surrounding city. It would still be hard to get a good shot though. All of the fanciful buildings blocked him from getting a good view of the street. The smoke from the fires also didn't help. He told Caroline to try to get the invader onto the roofs and away from the fires but she was having enough trouble keeping up with it as it was. Their arrival seemed to have really spooked it and it was making a run for the edge of the city. There was a large forest in that direction. Caroline identified it, between gasps, as the Dark Forest. He thought she was trying to explain that it was the site of some ancient battle.

“Don't let it get to the forest,” he interrupted her story. “That's what we should focus on.”

He started scanning the roofs again. Caroline didn't respond and a series of rattles from her gun gave him an idea of where she was. A few times he caught sight of a ragged figure running through the streets or through houses. For some reason the creature refused to use the roofs. Perhaps the aversion to sunlight was so strong that it wouldn't consider it even now. He told Caroline this before going back to scanning the streets and waiting. He might only be a Brother but he was one of the best snipers of his year. It just took one moment and the timing to use that moment. The moment would come.

“It's climbing the wall!” Caroline shouted from the radio on his belt. Isaac snapped to the wall just in time to see a black figure scuttle up and over. It looked even more insect-like from this distance. He quickly deduced the shortest route from that point in the wall to the edge of the forest and jumped ahead a little. His target would have to cross a field. The fields close to the forest were poorly maintained and the irrigating canals dry but despite this, or maybe because of it, it looked very picturesque. The reticle slowly swayed over the field as he, again, waited. When the black figure darted across the field he held his breath, aimed and fired. It fell, hopped up on one leg and continued moving. It was slower now. Isaac aimed higher this time and when he fired the target fell down and didn't stand up. He carefully reached for his radio without losing sight of the creature. He wouldn't let it go out of his sight until she was close enough to push that bullet sprayer of hers against the forehead of the thing.

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