[Jurupa Valley, California]
The sight of two demigods fighting was really something special. A normal human being would have trouble understand it even if they looked right at it, thanks to their bias from watching supernatural movies with special effects. Those always had this artificial awkwardness that could never really be erased, only covered up and blurred by expert choreography. Reality had none of that. When absurd things really happened, there was this mind numbing reaction that resulted from the human brain realizing its standards were wrong.
On the other hand, the remains were a lot easier to understand.
“Looks like they managed to get each other at the same time. I never knew cross-counters actually happened. Wish I could have seen it.”
Primo Greer gave that serious assessment, completely nonchalant, while looking at a horrific scene. In the alleys between some seemingly abandoned warehouses, a one on one fight had definitely occurred. The bodies were left behind and there was traces of supernatural phenomenon all around them. Primo was sure it hadn’t been fair—they rarely were. One side had probably been better in combat, probably with a more useful plethora of abilities. In response, the weaker side had come prepared with all sorts of tricks, prepared for anything. Sadly, they had only been able to force a bloody draw.
“Whoa, they’re seriously dead. This is so much different than I expected—I’m so glad I came!”
Sabina Calnick, the college girl Primo had only met recently, had a look of excitement and glee on her face and recklessly approached the corpses to get a closer look. Primo had been told that she had interest in hard core horror, gore, and snuff movies, but he still hadn’t expected such an abnormally normal reaction.
“You’re a weird girl.”
“Have you even heard your name? I’m still pretty sure it’s fake or something. Huh. There’s not as much blood coming from this one. What do you think killed him?”
“Don’t touch the bodies.” Primo tried to speak casually when
Sabina reached a hand out, but he was sure he heard some panic come through.
“You might leave fingerprints. Or some remains from of the magic they used
might get to you.”
Sabina recoiled immediately, drawing back several feet. Once she did, she blushed a bit as she realized that she was probably being teased. Primo decided it was best to not tell her how serious he was being. Demigods were pretty vindictive. The malicious things they’d do to those around them when at the brink of death was vast. This was in part due to a grudge against those bringing harm to them (a basic animal instinct), but it was also largely thanks to the opportunity presented to them. Demigods were weird in the way that they would rejoice at the chance to ‘stretch’, even if it’s against their better judgment. In this world, they were constantly holding back, refusing to use the powers granted to them at birth as much as possible to blend in with society. Wanting to escape the eyes of their enemies was an obvious incentive, but there was something even more immediately problematic that deterred them.
Using magic chipped away at their lifespan.
Most looked at it as using one’s own life to fuel magic. There was no telling how large a reserve any individual had, nor how much of that reserve any little bit of magic consumed (though you could make a general assessment based on intuition). In fact, there were countless unknowns with demigods of the era, including in regards to reviving one’s god. It was generally believed that gathering enough ‘energy’ through the form of rituals, ceremonies, and worship would return a god to power so they could materialize in the world, but naturally, no has succeeded as of yet. And considering that, in this godless world, it was guaranteed that the god that was revived first would essentially be the ruler of the Common Era, it was only natural that the life of a demigod literally became a race against time.
And this ended up pitting strangers against each other to create scenes like what was before Primo all over the country. It was reasonable, but sad all the same. Whether they prioritized their life or their god’s resurrection, tragic stories become a more common thing thanks to the struggle of demigods.
Though there were exceptions.
Primo stepped forward and kneeled beside one of the bodies and pulled his collar back with one hand. On his neck was a weird symbol that was probably a tattoo. It was two triangles overlapping to create a diamond with a line going down its vertical line of symmetry, diagonal horizontal lines extending from that, and asterisks scattered around the outside next to match each external vertex made by the two triangles.
“Hey!” Sabina called while Primo moved to the next body to check for the same thing. “I thought you said we can’t touch them!”
“I said you can’t. I made my fingers smooth, so I can at least do this much.”
“What? How?! Did you sand down your fingers so they wouldn’t leave a mark?! Let me see!”
Primo stood up and evaded Sabina’s advance.
“I’m surprised you can play around like this. Aren’t you worried something might happen? We’re on a battlefield, after all.”
“Should I be worried?”
“I’d say so. A third party might have attacked the two of them when they were distracted with fighting each other. I’m no expert on the human anatomy, so I doubt I’m sharp enough to check their cause of death. I’ll try to keep you safe, but acting up isn’t going to make my job easier.”
“Wow. That’s sweet. Hunter never asked you to go that far. Is it because I’m cute?”
“I’m the type who can’t see other girls as attractive after he falls in love once. It’s way too late for you.”
Sabina’s pouting expression made it clear that she had been hoping for a different answer, but she didn’t seem too bothered by it since she skipped after Primo and latched herself onto his arm as they headed out of the alleys, making sure they were unseen when heading back the way they came.
“Do you mind?”
“You’re going to protect me, right? Obviously, staying close to you will make that easier.”
Primo snorted aloud but didn’t object further. Sabina thought for a second, her gaze wandering.
“What were you looking for on their necks?”
“You just want to talk about something, don’t you?”
“So what? A girl can’t make conversation? You definitely have the attitude of a guy who’s already taken.”
Primo rolled his eyes.
“I was looking for Hunter’s Veve. I’m sure you have one somewhere on your body. It’s how he’s been collecting energy for his god for the past several years.”
“Oh, yeah. That free tattoo he offers everyone who comes to his shop. It’s pretty popular, even though it looks weird.”
“He probably enchanted the sample picture he shows people. Anyways, he makes especially sure to put that tattoo on his followers, like you and the girls. He made a pact with the other demigods in the area and used that symbol as proof of their relationship. From what I hear, they didn’t know at first what meaning it had in his god’s religion. Since those two had it on their necks, we can say for certain that they were two of the demigods who were supposed to be working with Hunter.”
“Then why did they kill each other?”
“No clue. They might have had a serious grudge against each other that they kept a secret from Hunter, or maybe something serious came up recently. Or maybe there really is a third party, one that purposely pitted the two against each other.”
“Demigods really do have it out for each other. Wouldn’t it be easier for you guys to just work together rather than holding grudges?”
That got a dry grin from Primo.
“There are a bunch who think the same way. Twice, someone really charismatic stepped forward and came close to reviving their god that way. Both times they were crushed brutally. The first time, fifty people were completely decimated.”
For once, a solemn air surrounded Sabina. She didn’t look put off or hurt. She probably realized that the topic was a serious one to Primo.
“I forgot. You’re an Egyptian demigod, aren’t you?”
“No need to be sympathetic. The point is, both attempts came close, but failed. First we need to do something about the reasons we failed. But that’s an issue that will be addressed by some other guys, so for now, just focus on supporting the man you love.”
“I plan to.” Sabina’s smile returned to her face. “And I won’t go into details about how much of a gentleman you were today, since he’d get jealous. Deal?”
“...What the hell do you plan to tell him instead, then?”
Hunter Sabga owned an entire building for his work as a tattoo artist. While that sounded grand, the building wasn’t exactly big. It was three stories high, the top floor being his living space. The basement was designated for storage, but it pretty much functioned as the official meeting place for his ‘group’.
Due to the lopsided gender ratio, Primo had a habit of referring to them as ‘the harem’.
“Primo! Sabina! You’re just on time! Come on, out with it! What did you find?”
Hunter called out the moment the faces of the two were visible after descending the stairs. He sat at one of the many couches in the basement, twisting his head to look back behind him. Girls littered the entire room, casually chatting on couches or standing around. Most of them had no real reason to be here, though Primo couldn’t really judge them if they just wanted to hang out. If Hunter was okay with it, it was none of Primo’s business.
“They had the tattoos.” Sabina happily announced as she hopped over to the couch immediately, slipping onto Hunter’s lap while pushing away the girl who’d been previously occupying it. “Both of them, on the neck. Looks like they really were your friends.”
“Ah, damn it. So much for that.” Hunter pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation. “They were definitely Jazz and Simon. I can’t believe this seriously happened now, of all times.”
Primo shrugged indifferently as he circled around the couch to stand beside it. Of the girls in the harem, only four of them were officially Hunter’s ‘underlings’, or whatever else you wanted to call them. They were the ones most dedicated to him to the point that they could borrow a small amount of his power, assuming they were within close enough proximity. One of them was Sabina, the girl who’d been attached to Hunter throughout his entire high school experience. Kahley was the other who was his ‘second girlfriend’ around the same time and Kimber was a girl he met while working at some job before opening this shop. Those two girls sat on the carpet in front of the couch, watching the television that was showing an interview with some famous actress. The one who Sabina had pushed away was Tamara, Hunter’s childhood friend and self-proclaimed most trusted ally that has known him longest. In the short time Primo had interacted with these girls, he’d learned in depth of how they had each met Hunter. They all told him against his will, so there was really nothing to do about it.
Recently, according to the others, there was one girl who Hunter was favoring and thinking about letting join his inner circle, to the jealousy of all the others. Leah, the girl with the short blonde hair, leaned against the arm of the couch and wordlessly handed Primo a water bottle, which he accepted. In his personal opinion, of all the girls present, he found himself silently rooting for Leah. Of the varying personalities in the group, he felt that Leah was the only one who’d properly weighed the pros and cons of getting involved with Hunter, which proved how level-headed and dependable she was.
Well, it wasn’t like it was any of his business.
“So of the original seven demigods that lived in the surrounding area, only two are left?” Hunter continued to moan in despair. “Five of them died in just the past month! The bastard’s smart, not starting with me, or else I’d have murdered him already!”
“Maybe it’s someone you know?” Tamara suggested. “It has to be someone who knows that you’re the effective leader of the group. And someone that benefits from all of this.”
“Maybe an Apostle?” Sabina’s eyes glowed with hope. “But the last two may have killed each other, right? There’s no proof either way.”
“Of course there is, Sabina. Two had already been killed, you know? There’s a pattern. Someone has to have been killing them.”
“What about infighting? The two of them could have been working together, then fought each other after a disagreement or something when they both wanted to take command.”
“Hmm.” Hunter turned at Primo. “What do you think, bud?”
“It was that sixth ally of yours. They probably all had a power struggle that they hid from you, and he won.”
The girls looked pretty surprised by Primo’s blunt response, including the two watching television. They all looked for Hunter’s reaction, but he was already looking toward Leah.
Leah casually pointed toward someone else.
“I’m pretty sure Drexel was thinking the same thing.”
All eyes fell onto the man fast asleep in the armchair. With his black jacket, spiky dirty blonde hair, and long legs sheathed in jeans, he looked like someone you’d prefer to avoid dealing with. It was be perfectly believable if someone said that he’d just walked in on his own, sat in the armchair, and went to sleep. In fact, Primo was tempted to think that was what happened. Nonetheless, Kimber didn’t hesitate to reach a foot out and start kicking his leg to wake him up.
“Huh?” Drexel Loanes shot up with surprising speed, almost like a martial artist with part of his brain awake. “What’s up? Primo? Weren’t you supposed to catch a flight or something? Why’re you here?”
“Flight got cancelled.” Primo replied honestly. “So I’m helping Hunter out with his problem while I have the time. I already told James, so don’t worry about it.”
“Right, right.” Drexel yawned widely and repositioned himself on the armchair. “James said something about Hunter being an important ally we can’t abandon, so we came to help him out, didn’t we? These politics are a hassle. Did you solve the problem?”
“You may as well just sleep through the apocalypse.” Kimber muttered and all the girls giggled. Drexel didn’t seem to mind at all.
“Primo came up with the same theory as you, Drexel.” Leah was the only one to stay on task. “He thinks the culprit is—”
“Blondie, hold up a second.” Drexel interrupted with a single hand raised. “I told ya, didn’t I? Sure, my name is Drexel, but that’s not what I go by. Call me Rex.”
“Are you sure?” Leah raised an eyebrow. “I don’t like to judge, but I think Drexel is a much better name.”
“Yeah, well no one asked you, did they? I’m here to help out that boyfriend you’re all crowding around, but I don’t really care about normal people, you know? If you don’t figure out how to show some respect when people asked for it, you can’t blame them when they get violent, can you?”
Leah didn’t cower in the face of such blatant threats, nor did she get belligerent. Primo kept his praise to himself and spoke up.
“Just tell us what your reasoning is. If we agree, we’ll probably be able to finish it pretty quickly.”
“I can’t exactly say how I know, but it’s a trustworthy source. That’s all I can say.”
Well that was anticlimactic.
“What do you mean you ‘can’t say’?” Hunter frowned at Drexel
suspiciously. “Are you holding out on us?”
“Of course I am. We all got secrets, you know? Sure, we’re working together, but I don’t plan on giving our secrets out left in right. If you can’t trust us despite that, then this relationship is over.”
Hunter was visibly uncomfortable with that, but he didn’t voice an objection. He was likely hiding some secrets as well and it was a sure thing that both sides had started this relationship knowing full well that it would be like that.
“If Primo thinks he knows our guy, then that’s enough for me. But try to get confirmation before you off him. If not for this, Bennet would be a cool guy.”
“We’ll give him a chance, but assume he’s dead either way.” Drexel hopped to his feet and looked at Primo before nodding toward the door. An obvious signal. “Same for any underlings he’s got with him.”
“Take one of the girls with you, at least.”
“That’s Primo’s problem.”
Primo paused at the door while Drexel briskly exited without looking back. Primo’s eyes surveyed the room briefly before falling on the only person who caught his eye.
“What do you say? Interested?”
“Me?” Leah’s eyes lit up. “Will you protect me like you promised Sabina?”
Gossip traveled fast among groups of girls. The larger, the faster.