Chapter 3: Kicking underground ass
Author’s note: I love to read what you thought of this chapter. Don’t be afraid to leave a comment, I don’t bite ;)
“Where is she?!” I yelled in frustration. After I’d received that weird call, I immediately dashed off to her dorm. But the dorm supervisor told me he hadn’t seen her. So I decided on checking out all paths going to and from her dorm. At first, I saw nothing out of the ordinary. I was starting to lose hope and thought I had missed something until I ran into a grim and dark alley.
It was a filthy alcove, with all kinds of junk littered about the place. I pushed some of the dirt away with my food as I inspected the area. There was nothing out of the ordinary. Rather, nothing that shouldn’t be there. However, dirt-filled areas always hid more than they initially let on so I continued my search. After five minutes, I was thinking I should go to the next area where Angelique could be. Yet a glimmer attracted my attention. Nothing more than the simple reflection of light. Which was weird.
Normally, anything shiny or valuable would’ve been stolen, by ravens or humans alike. But this thing seemed to be here for a short time, judging from the lack of dust on it. When I walked closer, I saw the silver-coloured metal of a Xenophone. I grabbed it and flipped it open.
“Damn!” It was Angelique’s. Well, tracking the Xenophone was out of the question, I realized. I tapped my foot on the floor out of frustration. This was getting me nowhere: I needed more leads. Otherwise…
“Young man. You seem to be in a bit of a pickle.” An old, distinguished voice echoed behind me. When I turned around, a monocle-wearing man stared me in the face. I yelped and quickly jumped backwards.
’No need to be afraid.” He calmly said. However, his unsettling smile was something that made me afraid.
“No need to be afraid, you say?! How can I do that when an old dude just appeared out of nowhere?” I panicked. The old man chuckled. He snapped his fingers and crossed the distance between him and me in an instant.
“Now, now, there is no need for you to be apprehensive about me. I am here to aid you.” He announced. I frowned and jumped back. This guy was bad news: I felt it in my bones. The fact he crossed a distance as great as 30 feet in an instant only added to my suspicion. I didn’t even see a magic circle!
“Help? What kind of help?” The man smiled softly, although the gesture didn’t reach his grey eyes. He stepped towards me, his cane tapping against the concrete.
“Nothing much. I’m in quite a pickle myself. You see, a couple of my… associates have been running rampant lately. I thought I had caught wind of them here, but they seemed to have given me the slip. Since you are searching for something as well, why don’t we look together?” He offered. I had to decline however.
“No thanks, old man. I’m kinda busy right now!” I answered. The man clicked his tongue before he turned his back to me.
“That’s a shame. I was looking forward to telling you about a certain squid girl.” I dashed towards him and grabbed him by his squeaky clean collar.
“Okay, old man. Confess now, or I’ll ram you in the floor!” I yelled in a panic. By the gods, I don’t remember a time where I got so worked up about a person. The last time I felt like punching people was that one time I didn’t find my teddy-bear and thought I discarded him!
“All right, young man. Do calm down first.” The man said. He grabbed my trembling wrist and wrestled himself free. Once I had calmed down, he showed me something.
It was a comb. But not any old comb: the teeth were soft and wavy, like the waves of the sea. A faint aroma of seaweed and salt wafted from the thing. I realized it was Angelique’s.
“I found this here just a couple of minutes ago. I imagine it’s related to your problem?” I nodded. How did this guy know who I was looking for? Things didn’t add up. At all. I wasn’t about to complain, however.
“Right, right. So? What do you propose we do?” I leaned against a broken washing machine and twirled Angelique’s Xenophone between my fingers. I still don’t trust you, old man, I thought. But I’ve got no other choice. For now.
“First, we get into the Devil’s Districts. Then, we search for your person. I’ve got the distinct feeling we’ll find the people I’m looking for as well.” He explained before he walked away. I clicked my tongue and followed him: why did this guy know so much? Something wasn’t right here…
The Devil’s Districts were a chaotic collection of streets in the eastern side of the city. Mostly active at night, they were filled with nightclubs, bars and more. There were even rumours about people dealing in substances that could cause temporary happiness, weird dreams and so on. I had no idea if I could believe those rumours though…
“Here we are, the centre of the Devil’s Districts: Inferno!” The old man proudly announced after we crossed through the city. I grumbled: this place was too loud. And the neon signs barfing their colours everywhere didn’t help either.
“Right. In case you’ve forgotten, I’m looking for someone.” The man turned to me and sighed. He pointed at a disused building a bit further down one of the seven streets running from the main plaza, Inferno. The building was different from the rest, as it didn’t have any neon lighting.
“That’s the first place where I would look. When I was still… acquainted with those guys, they frequently hid in there.” I nodded. But that didn’t solve my problem.
“Okay, all fine and dandy. Do I have to remember you I am looking for a singular girl?” The old man chuckled. He walked towards the house while he explained his thoughts to me over his shoulder.
“I do know that. However, my acquaintances have a tendency of… abducting people. I thought that I’d taught them not to do that, though.” Just who was this guy?, I asked myself. He seemed to know way too much for just a bystander sharing the same goal. Where did his information come from?
“Those people of yours sound like a real nasty bunch, you now that?” I commented. The old man didn’t answer and politely knocked on the door of the disused building. While we waited for an answer, I saw how a couple of scantily-clad women waved at us. I blushed and tried to keep my focus on the mission at hand. I failed miserably.
“Huh. Seems like they moved their base of operations.” The old man declared. When he noticed no one was coming to open the door, he simply kicked it in. Behind it, there was nothing of notice. Only a couple of broken leather couches and rotted wood. Nothing else that could lead me to where Angelique was.
“Those morons are still as stupid as in the past.” The man chuckled. In his hands, he held a fumbled piece of paper. He carefully rolled it out on the rotted remains of what was once a table and looked it over. I stared over his shoulder.
“What’s this a map of?” I asked. The routes on it were completely unknown to me, so it couldn’t be someplace in the city. Although I hadn’t had the time to explore the Devil’s District, the map didn’t seem to depict its streets either.
“The underground.” The man answered. I frowned. Underground?
“Underground…? Like the sewers, you mean?” The man nodded and put the map in his vest’s pocket. He turned towards me.
“So you do have something in that head of yours!” He joked. I grumbled and watched him walk out of the building. While I followed him, I saw how he balanced a simple wooden cane between his fingers. He seemed more than comfortable with it, like he was used to swing it around.
We walked through the bustling district for quite a while. All that time, the man hummed a tune only known to him. Just when I had lost the last shreds of my patience, he pointed at a manhole cover. Without saying anything, he looked around. There was no one around, as we were in one of the most remote corners of the district.
“Right. Once we get down here, it’ll be a maze. Stick close to me, okay?” I nodded before he lightly tapped the steel manhole cover. In a fraction of a second, a magic circle appeared on the cold steel. I recognized the dark red of Devil magic. However, before I could look any closer, the manhole exploded and flew high up in the air.
“Wagh!” I jumped backwards. I was lucky that I did, or the manhole that came crashing down once again had crushed my head! I glared at the old man.
“A warning would’ve been more than welcome.” I whispered angrily through my teeth. The old man chuckled before he dropped down the hole without a care in the world. I wanted to drag him back up but my hands only grasped air. When I looked down the hole, I saw how the old man landed on his feet.
“Come on, young man! If you don’t want to jump, there’s a ladder near your left hand!” He pointed out. Before I could ask anything else, he stepped into the darkness of the sewers. I grumbled and quickly climbed down.
Just who was this man, I asked myself again. He seemed more than capable of using spells without any trouble. He clearly had achieved a higher level of using magic; He didn’t even have to use his hands to create a magic circle!
“Down here.” He suddenly said and pointed at a grate right beside his feet. It wasn’t anything special: rusty and covered in a green goo. The man tapped the grate again and sent it flying. Now that the grate was out of the way, I could hear faint voices. I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying…
“Huh. They are so stupid for leaving a map to their new base in their old one.” The old man mumbled while he pushed himself a way through the green goo. I sighed and followed him: what was he talking about anyway?
We crawled through the slimy darkness of the sewers for quite a while, until the old man suddenly stopped. I wanted to ask why. However, a source of light underneath the two of us silenced me. It was a grate.
“Here we are.” The old man announced. I looked through the grate and saw some shadows moving back and forth. The room itself was dimly lit with dark red lights. I looked at the man; He was busy balancing his walking stick on his hand.
“Ready? I go in first, you cover my back.” I wanted to nod, but a peculiar sound warranted my attention. Particularly, a set of someone stomping against metal pipes. Combined with grunting noises, I knew enough.
I took one look at the magic circle holding the grate shut and let my power flare to the surface. This farce had gone on long enough. Before the old man could say anything, I had my Mark devour the magic circle and fell down into the room.
“Well… Plans were made to be changed, I guess.” The old man commented before he dropped down after me. Inside the room, there were about twenty people. They looked just as stunned to see the two of us as we were to see them. Yet, only one person was happy to see us.
“HMPGRH!” Angelique struggled against the heavy chains holding her captive against one of the walls. A bundle of filthy cloth had been shoved between her lips, and I saw a couple of scratches and cuts on her soft squid-tentacles. The more I looked around, the more I realized this was a dangerous area to fight in.
A boiler room. One spark here and the whole place would go up in smoke.
“Hang on, Angelique. I’ll have you out of there in no time!” I yelled. The other people in the room chuckled to that. They slowly grouped together, cutting off my way to the squid-girl.
“Ha! Like we’d ever let you do that! She’s of key importance to our plans and—” The old man behind me cut him off.
“Oh really? Since when did you have enough stuff in your brain to follow a plan, let alone think one up yourself?” When the man stepped out of the shadows, several people who surrounded us gasped in shock.
“Y-You are… S-Satan!” My head snapped to the old man. Satan? Like, one of the higher-ranked devils?! The old man shrugged while he inspected his gold monocle.
“That’s people called me way back. I’d rather go by a different name now. That gives less trouble, you see?” He answered. I saw a couple of ruffians grab a their weapons. From daggers to swords, from bats to needles, the whole spiel was present. I grabbed a nearby steel pipe in response.
“Get them!” The apparent leader ordered. Immediately, I jumped backwards. The old man stood still and simply tapped his cane on the floor once again. Several small magic circles appeared underneath the attackers, before small explosions shattered their feet and rendered them immobile.
“Wow…” I was speechless. I never knew you could use spells that way. One bandit who managed to get through dove towards me, his knife ready to strike. I unhandily parried his slash and countered by smashing the pipe against his hollow head.
“Nice one!” I heard the old man comment while he knocked out three people at once with his cane. This old geezer—no, Satan—was seriously strong!, I realized.
Then, the spells came.
Only a handful of people could use spells, and they were low-level to boot. However, the elements that they used were not optimal.
“Fireball!” I screamed and fell to my knees. The scorching heat above me easily burning through the back of my shirt. Close one, I said to myself while I jumped back to my feet. I looked at Angelique, who furiously pulled against her chains to get free. However, I saw that her shackles were embedded with a magical circle. If I remembered correctly, things imbued with that spell became as hard, if not harder, than diamond.
My eyes fell to the boiler and saw that its temperature was near its boiling point. A plan formed in my head, and Angelique played the leading role. I just needed to—
“Watch out!” A massive fireball hit me square in the stomach. The heat tore its way through my shirt and burned the front of it to tatters. However, my skin remained intact. Instead, my Mark started glowing and the misty being living inside me appeared again. It licked its maw childishly before it devoured the fireball with one gulp.
“Urgh!” I felt my stomach burning with the same heat as the spell that previously hit me. However, my mind raced to find a solution. Spell-eating…Spell-eating… What else did people do when they ate? And then, it all clicked.
Everything what can be eaten, can be spewed back out!, I realized. I wondered if the shadowy being understood my intentions.
I took a sneak peak at it and from the moment our eyes crossed, we knew we both thought the same. While I jumped back on my feet, I saw how the being coughed up the spell again. Rather, it coughed up the original spell circle.
However, instead of having three components, it had four.
In addition to the normal components, the fourth was a magic ring. Engraved with symbols that were unfamiliar to me, yet seemed so familiar at the same time, I knew they were part of the Unknown magic inside my Mark.
“Don’t move! I-If you do, the girl gets it!” My eyes drifted towards the voice. At the back of the boiler room, one of the thugs held a rusty knife against Angelique’s throat. She had already been unshackled and had her wrists tied behind her back with some rope.
Yet, I wasn’t keen on stopping now. I knew I had the advantage, somehow. Without saying anything, I fired off my spell. Instead of the usual, fist-wide fireball, a huge ball of flames appeared. I suspected it had something to do with using magic of the Unknown.
“Payback time!” I yelled. The fireball effortlessly tore its way straight through the ranks of my attackers. The old man jumped out of the way and calmly landed on some pipes. He had this amused smirk on his lips.
“I warned you!” The man grabbed his knife and thrust it towards Angelique. The girl shrieked loudly and flailed around. The fireball raced towards the man and picked up speed.
“Too slow!” I said. The only thing the man could do was scream as the ball devoured his entire body. A couple of seconds after that, only dust remained where he had been standing.
“Angelique!” I quickly dashed towards the girl and caught her in my arms. I cut through her gag and bindings with the rusted knife of the ruffian and checked how she was doing. Her tentacles were feeling dry and coarse, just like the rest of her body. She was severely dehydrated.
“Carnel… I’m not… not feeling so well.” She whispered when she opened her eyes. I shot her a soft smile when I heard her voice again. It was so soothing, no matter the circumstance.
“Hey, boy! Any ideas to get out of here?” The old man yelled. He was holding off fifteen people at the same time with his cane.
“Just blow them all away!” I offered. The man shook his head, just as he bopped five attackers on the head at the same time.
“I can’t do that! The entire thing will come down on us!” Damn, that’s right. I heard some sizzling noises behind me . Steam. I took one good look at Angelique, who had trouble breathing. Her tentacles were shrivelling right in front of my eyes. If this continued…
“Not on my watch.” I mumbled. I pulled my shirt over my head and held it in the scalding steam. I bit through the pain and waited until the cloth had been thoroughly soaked. Then, I wringed it out an dpoured the water on my squid-friend. The water helped her tentacles to get back to their cool, squishy state.
“T-That’s better… Thank you, Carnel.” I smiled.
“I promised to watch your back, didn’t I?” The girl smiled and brushed her seaweed-coloured hair out of the way.
“That you did.” She said in a cheery, yet tired tone. The old man complained at the other end of the room.
“Hey, you two! In case you hadn’t noticed, I really need some help here!” He was starting to get overwhelmed. Since he couldn’t use any large-scale magic, the greater numbers of his attackers were paying off.
“Let me at them.” Angelique announced. The girl helped herself on her feet before she placed one arm around my waist to hold her steady. With her other hand, she channelled an usual fireball-spell. But it soon turned into a ‘Righteous Inferno’.
“Hey, old man! Move it!” I yelled loudly. He didn’t even get any time to react before the spell activated on its own. A torrent of flames poured forth out of the magic circle and devoured bandit after bandit.
“This is for all the pain you’ve caused me!” The squid-girl yelled. I smiled: she really was getting stronger. The bandits got burned one by one. Those that managed to escape the flaming onslaught quickly got knocked out by the old man’s cane.
“Let’s get out of here!” He yelled. I took a look at the boiler behind me. Angelique’s flames were pushing it to its breaking point. I drenched my shirt one more time as I saw Angelique’s hands getting charred by her own powers.
I used my own powers to devour her spell, which made the creature inside of me happy, and poured the water from my shirt over her. She smiled softly before the three of us made a dash to the vent we came through. None of us looked back as we scrambled to get as far as possible.
Only when we arrived in the sewer’s main hallway, the rumble of the explosion reached us. I took a deep breath before I fell down on the filthy floor. I didn’t care if the sticky green goop stuck to my skin.
“That was… interesting.” The man remarked. Angelique took a deep breath before she took a look around. She deemed the situation safe and sat down as well.
“The explosion was here!” Unknown voices echoed from deeper into the sewer. From the entrance.
“Damn, the police!” The old man realized. He quickly looked around and saw the mainstream river that carried the filth of the Devil’s District outwards, towards the main city.
“Hey, squid girl! You can swim, right?” Angelique looked at the old man with a questioning gaze before she softly nodded.
“Girl, grab hold of that guy!” He commanded. I felt her soft tentacles caress my overheating body. It honestly felt really good. She whispered softly in my ear before she stood on her feet. My body was overheating too much from the spell that I used; I couldn’t move a muscle anymore.
“Now go!” With those words, he threw both of us into the river. Angelique immediately started swimming. Her body was incredibly fast as she travelled through the murky water. Whenever she saw my face getting red, she surfaced to let me get some air before she sunk back into the murky depths of the water.
And so, we made our way to the main part of the city. Battered and bruised, dehydrated and burned but alive nonetheless.
“What did you think of him, Boss?” An unknown woman asked to a certain old man. The man chuckled.
“He certainly has a lot of potential: using the steam to keep his friend alive and re-firing a fireball using his own power. He is worth having a Mark of the Unknown.” The man sighed and grabbed a wooden pipe.
“It was a bit dicey, wasn’t it? You were really lucky that he needed help when he did.” The woman remarked.
“Luck? No. I knew exactly what happened. My Mark allows me to hear over great distances, remember? I was chasing that group of idiots for a long time now. I just had to see what this Unknown Mark had to give. So I decided to tackle two birds with one stone.” He explained while he puffed his pipe.
“I just hope he can develop his powers enough before the others get their grubby paws all over him.” The old man, Satan, Grumbled.